This Is Where I Leave You

Posted by Joel Copling on September 19, 2014

Truth is never so cutting--in good ways for families that function well and in bad ways for families that don't--than when it comes from a relative. This sentiment is more or less the thesis of "This Is Where I Leave You." There's nothing new under the sun with that sentiment; every family has its quirks and flaws and fault lines at which relationships erode before reaching peace again later. Thin on plot and meandering though Jonathan Tropper's screenplay (based on his own novel) may be, the film maintains a weary heart and is blessed by a lack of clear resolution for any of its characters. Neither out-of-place humor nor extra supporting players are able to irritate fully, though they definitely try. But hoary subplots involving breast implants, pot humor, and a brain injury have nothing on an otherwise sweetly unassuming family reunion in the wake of loss.

The patriarch of the Altman family has died, and though he was atheist, he was also Jewish, his dying wish for the wife and children he has left behind to celebrate the mourning ritual known as shiva. Widowed Hillary (Jane Fonda), the one who has gotten the breast implants, somehow seems the strongest, no longer remembering her late spouse for the patient he was in the final days but for the husband he proved to be. Paul (Corey Stoll), Judd (Jason Bateman, who gets top billing and the slight majority of screen time), and Phillip (Adam Driver) are his sons in descending order of age and, likely, maturity level; Judd is the only one struggling to find something to mourn about his father's death. Wendy (Tina Fey) is the sole daughter, married to the mostly absent Barry Weissman (Aaron Lazar) and harried mother to the poop-happy Cole (an adorable Cade Lappin).

Wendy's companionship issues are perhaps the most perfunctory thing in the entire film, relegated mostly to Barry's reliance on his cell phone and a handful of loud arguments, but she has her own escape with first-love Horry Callen (Timothy Olyphant), with whom she shared a would-be runaway romance before an untimely accident left Horry with slight brain damage (The way Olyphant plays the role as slightly aloof never gels with the rest of the film or with Fey's reading of the situation). Phillip has brought home a fiancee named Tracy Sullivan (Connie Britton), his older therapist, who feels she is with a man-child (Britton is quite good, but the situation is carelessly and childishly--not on Phillip's part, either--resolved). Judd came home to find his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard) three months before this particular blow, while Penny Moore (Rose Byrne), who was desperately in love with Judd in high school, happens back into his life at exactly the wrong--and right--time, and Paul, who married Judd's nine-month flame from years before, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), wants to have kids but cannot for reasons he refuses to investigate.

These threads are affecting, and so are the actors within them. Bateman, especially, is effectively morose as Judd, who simply can't cope with complicated relationships (Yes, his wife comes back into the picture with some news, and the way he handles this keeps with the character's mounting "bad year"). Fey reliably finds notes of truth underneath the biting sarcasm as Wendy, as does Driver, whose Phillip is ultimately more than a one-note loser. Stoll is solid as the oldest brother, who realizes far too late that he's not been any fun in years (His brothers' reassurance of another truth is as funny as it is completely truthful). Fonda does lovely work as the matriarch, who harbors a rather shocking secret that comes spilling out during the busy finale. Supporting players galore, obviously, and not all of them work (Olyphant is, as mentioned, aloof and awkward, while Shepard is an annoyance as Judd's rival lover and Ben Schwartz is beyond annoying as a rabbi with, well, a solid reputation), though Hahn is terrific as Annie, who has a most curious reaction toward Judd's news, and Byrne is a delight as the former admirer all grown up. The strength of "This Is Where I Leave You," then, comes when Tropper's screenplay and Shawn Levy's blunt direction of it shut up for a second and let the film's characters have their say.

Film Information

Jason Bateman (Judd Altman), Tina Fey (Wendy Weissman), Jane Fonda (Hillary Altman), Adam Driver (Phillip Altman), Rose Byrne (Penny Moore), Corey Stoll (Paul Altman), Kathryn Hahn (Annie Altman), Connie Britton (Tracy Sullivan), Timothy Olyphant (Horry Callen), Abigail Spencer (Quinn Altman), Dax Shepard (Wade Beaufort), Debra Monk (Linda Callen), Ben Schwartz (Rabbi Charles "Boner" Grodner), Aaron Lazar (Barry Weissman), Cade Lappin (Cole).

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jonathan Tropper, based the novel by Tropper.

Rated R (language, sexual content, drug use).

103 minutes.

Released on September 19, 2014.