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This Is Where I Leave You

September 19, 2014

And we’re back.

In case you were wondering where I’ve been for the past few weeks, it basically boils down to there wasn’t much coming out and I was away or sick and just couldn’t make it to the theater. This week however a lot of new and interesting stuff has come out and I almost had a paralysis of choice in regards to what to see. However, I realized that the people who intend to see films like Maze Runner or Tusk will not be deterred or encouraged by any review good or bad (after all, I totally plan on seeing Tusk and The Drop, which I missed last week, sometime soon).

This is Where I Leave You was the only movie coming out this week that had not only caught my attention but that I knew next to nothing about. Like Maze Runner and Walk Amongst the Tombstones this movie is also a novel adaptation, with the screenplay written by its author, Jonathan Tropper. All that I could really gather from the trailers was that it starred many funny people and was about the highly dysfunctional Altman family.

On the surface, the plot is very simple. The patriarch of the Altman family has passed away, and his dying wish was that in spite of his atheism his children come together and sit shiva (a Jewish tradition where families/close friends mourn in the deceased’s home for seven days). At the center of the story is Judd Altman (Bateman) who walks in on his wife having sex with his boss during the film’s opening, and returns home having told no one but his sister that they’re in the middle of divorce proceedings.

Once in the family’s home we learn that the rest of the family is not really any better off. The children’s mother (played by a very hilarious Jane Fonda) is a celebrity psychologist whose most famous work draws heavily from the lives of her own children. The eldest son Paul (Corey Stoll whose name I can never remember) is the successor to the family business and married to one of Judd’s high school girlfriends who he’s having trouble conceiving a child with. Wendy Altman (Tina Fey) is in a loveless marriage to a high strung asshole, and still yearning for her high school sweet heart Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who had his brain damaged in a car accident. Finally, the youngest child Phillip (Adam Driver) is an irresponsible manchild who is dating his much older, wealthy, former therapist (Connie Briton).

With every passing scene the family’s history is filled in and more and more insanity is piled onto Judd’s life. This is very much a story about a man who is completely lost and trying to, for the first time in his life, figure out what he wants. It’s interesting and complex, and there’s a lot of funny moments but somehow when it all comes together it doesn’t seem to hit as high as you would expect. I enjoyed a majority of the movie but as it came to a close I found myself resisting the way it was trying to wrap everything up.

The weird part is that it doesn’t necessarily end neatly. Unlike a lot of these, for lack of a better term, “literary” films, this movie purposefully tries to avoid wrapping all of its plotlines up in a neat little package. Of course, what’s far worse than an ending that’s too neat is one that screams its desire to leave plotlines hanging. By the end of the film, Judd has survived the hardest part of his life but he still has this huge journey to go on that we won’t ever get to see. Meanwhile, the rest of the family’s plotlines are left largely unresolved or about as resolved as they can realistically be.

Which is the point, but there’s something about the whole experience that left me feeling unsatisfied. On top of all that, some of the jokes don’t seem to hit as well in context as they did in the trailers. I feel like both Bateman and Fey were given the sorts of lines their most famous characters (Michael Bluth and Liz Lemon) would say but without the personalities or ensemble that always helped them land so perfectly. The best running gag in the film revolves around the rabbi (played by Ben Schwartz who you’d best know from Parks&Recreation), a young man who grew up with the Atlmans who had at some point earned the nickname, “Boner.”

I enjoyed a lot of This is Where I Leave You but when I put it all back together and try to look at it, I find it lacking. At times it’s funny and natural, and at others it feels forced and contrived, while still more of it seems like I’m watching a completely different movie. For example, I feel no reason to analyze the romance subplot with Rose Byrne, even mentioning it feels like a chore.

However, it does have a certain charm to it. It’s nothing that I can pin down, but I know it’s there. Maybe it’s the times when the film works, or the sheer strength of the cast, or its quaint Indie music soundtrack? I don’t know but it’s the only reason I can see families watching it on streaming when they’re trapped in a house together around Thanksgiving or Christmas.

So if your family enjoys raunchy comedies, then This is Where I Leave You is the film your uncle will fall asleep watching after eating too much turkey.

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From → Movies

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