The Sommer Series: A review of “This Is Where I Leave You”

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Neliana Ferraro

Photo courtesy of Dune Entertainment

 Written by Sommer Rusinski

I will always have faith in Jason Bateman to carry a film. Even after this one.

Where I Leave You is the story of Judd Altman (Bateman) coming home for the death of his father and being forced to sit shiva for seven days with his three estranged siblings and mother. The siblings are all floundering: there’s Judd, who’s recently unemployed and divorced due to his wife’s affair with his boss; Wendy (Tina Fey), Judd’s difficult and unhappy sister who’s stuck in a loveless marriage and still in love with her now-brain injured ex-boyfriend across the street (played beautifully by Timothy Olyphant); Paul (Corey Stoll, House of Cards), the responsible brother who stayed home to run the family business; and youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver, GIRLS)- impulsive and loud, who has never grown up or known responsibility. And of course, their mother (Jane Fonda); a psychologist-turned-best-selling author who makes her money exploiting her children’s issues. Plus all the spouses and love interests; played by Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, and Abigail Spencer. Chaos.

With all this built-in dysfunction from the outset, you’d think the conflict and humor would come easy. Unlike some other great family dramas, including my personal favorites Rachel Getting Married and August: Osage County, the whole thing feels fake. The storylines are forced and unrealistic; one scene has the three brothers smoking pot in temple and giggling and it just feels wrong. With drama, especially dysfunctional family drama, there is always innate humor. But the film pushes us so hard to feel that we just shut down. The punch lines are too accentuated and the swelling music and slow zooms are exhausting after a while, not to mention completely ineffective.

This is Where I Leave You has absolutely everything going for it, and it still doesn’t work. Despite an all-star cast and well-drawn characters loaded with potential, this movie absolutely falls flat. Perhaps the man who’s most to blame is director Shawn Levy who I’m convinced physically cannot make a genuine movie. He makes easy films- ones we can watch over and over while doing other things. Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, Date Night, The Internship– movies we all love but would never pay for…or actively sit down and devote our full attention to.

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Photo courtesy of Dune Entertainment

The cast is great. Jason Bateman is fantastic and he really isn’t at fault for this movie. He’s the king of subtlety, of half-blinks and cocked eyebrows. It’s comforting to know that we can read his face and know his every thought, especially in a film drowning in mayhem like This is Where I Leave You. There is one particularly moving scene at the end of the film where he finally breaks and if this movie were any good, it would have been an extremely impactful moment. Tina Fey is also really great and surprisingly moving. Obviously she’s also funny because she’s Tina Fey, but she also plays the subplot of her high school love affair with small but focused power. Jane Fonda doesn’t do much here, and it’s unfortunate that Hollywood can’t seem to give her more depth than the hot grandmother with ridiculously large new breast implants. She’s Jane Fonda! Have her do some real acting.

The movie had its moments; some scenes really were funny and some were emotional. But for the most part the dialogue was cheesy and stale. It’s entertaining like a street performance- easy to watch and easy to forget.