Friday, September 26, 2014

Movie Review: This is Where I Leave You

This  is Where I Leave You
Directed by: Shawn Levy.
Written by: Jonathan Tropper based on his novel.
Starring: Jason Bateman (Judd Altman), Tina Fey (Wendy Altman), Jane Fonda (Hillary Altman), Adam Driver (Phillip Altman), Rose Byrne (Penny Moore), Corey Stoll (Paul Altman), Kathryn Hahn (Alice Altman), Connie Britton (Tracy Sullivan), Timothy Olyphant (Horry Callen), Dax Shepard (Wade Beaufort), Debra Monk (Linda Callen), Abigail Spencer (Quinn Altman), Ben Schwartz (Rabbi Charles Grodner).

You would be hard pressed to find a better ensemble cast in any movie this year than the one Shawn Levy assembles for This is Where I Leave You. By themselves, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton and Timothy Olyphant are fine actors, more than capable of carrying their own movies.  But the movie throws them all together, adds in a few more characters, and forces them through a story with so many meaningless subplots, so many tonal shifts that do not work, that the actors are forced to try very hard and not get anywhere. I have a feeling that perhaps all of this worked better in the novel the film is based on – novels are better than movies at containing so many characters and so many subplots and doing justice to them all. But in a movie than runs just over 100 minutes, everything in This is Where I Leave You feels rushed – by trying to cram so much into the movie; the movie doesn’t really do any of it justice. The cast is game – but they`re let down by the movie.

The movie centers on the Altman family. The father has just died, and the mother Hillary (Fonda) has called her four adult children back to their childhood home, and insists that they sit Shiva for him for 7 days – even though they weren’t really Jewish. All four of the Altman children have issues – and are going through a lot in addition to their dead father. Judd (Bateman) has just found out his wife has been cheating on him for a year with his boss – so now he has no wife and no job. He meets a woman from his past (Rose Byrne) – the type of free spirited woman who always exist in movies like this to break the main character out of his funk. Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to a man who is always working, and trying to raise her two children – but is still in love with the neighbor Horry (Olyphant) who she dated years ago, and left when he got a brain injury. Paul (Corey Stoll) has been trying for years with his Alice (Hahn) to have a baby – but the two cannot conceive no matter what they do. The much younger Phillip (Driver) is an irresponsible, yet charming, screw-up who shows up with his new fiancée – the older Tracey (Britton). And all of this covers only about a half of all the subplots contained in the movie.

I enjoyed most of the performances in the movie. The actors are all talented, and have an easy chemistry together. Best in show is probably Driver, because he gets most of the films best lines and moments – and it’s always fun to see Driver behave like a buffoon. Everyone else in the film is fine – although because the movie focuses almost all of its attention on Judd – the rest of the cast is pretty much shunted to the background, and is never really given a chance to fully develop their characters. They do what they can however.

The movie is a strange mixture of comedy and drama – containing moments of near slapstick right next to more serious moments of introspection. In theory, a film could pull both of these off – but director Levy (best known for his comedies) never quite finds the right tone, and at times I got whiplash trying from all the shifts.

This is Where I Leave You is not an unpleasant experience really – it certainly has its moments. But it’s basically like one of the many American indie movies, about screwed up families, that we see many times a year – except this time, we have a cast of nothing but movie stars, in a major studio release that seems to want to sand off all the edges. It is a movie that contains no surprises, but watching this cast work is at least never boring – but if the best I have to say to say about a movie is that it isn’t boring, that’s not saying too much, is it.

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