This is Where I Leave You (Shawn Levy, 2014)
I hate when they show all the best parts in the trailer. This is Where I Leave You looked totally like my kind of thing, but beyond those few moments that I’d already seen a dozen times, there wasn’t much more to relish. Is it so hard to make a heartwarming dramedy these days? Recent attempts would suggest as much.
Based on the book by Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You follows the Altman family, who reunite for their father’s funeral. His last wish is for them to “sit Shiva”, a Jewish practice where family members spend seven days together mourning the deceased. This comes as a surprise to siblings Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) as their family has never been overly Orthodox. Nevertheless, matriarch Hillary (Jane Fonda) insists. All family members are struggling with domestic life – Judd has discovered his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) has been cheating on him for a year with his boss (Dax Shepard), Wendy pines for her old high-school love Horry (Timothy Olyphant) whilst being married to her corporate dick of a husband Barry (Aaron Lazar), Paul can’t get his wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) preggers, and Phillip has shacked up with a much older woman (Connie Britton) and seems to wander through life in a nonchalant daze. Forced to spend a week together they reconnect, blah blah blah, some get happy endings while others don’t. I suppose this is like real life, but it was nonetheless still riddled with cliché.
I’m not sure if the film suffered more from its direction by Shawn Levy (who has never made a film with all that much heart) or the screenplay (written by the book’s author, Jonathan Tropper) but it never quite moved beyond twee. There were many predictable developments, which I acknowledged almost with a nod of recognition because they did seem inevitable, but this was often accompanied by a mild cringe. Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ is a great song for a romantic moment on an abandoned skating rink, but it feels like it’s been done before. Probably in the eighties.
The cast – mostly known best for their roles in television – elevated the material, but couldn’t quite save it. When Tina Fey delivered her lines, I wished she was reciting her own written wit. When Adam Driver – of television’s Girls – delivered his, I wished it was Lena Dunham’s. These guys are funny, but even they seemed to struggle somewhat with below par material. It was good to see Kathryn Hahn – who looks like a cross between Ana Gasteyer and Idina Menzel – in a moderately bigger role than her usual thankless fare. She deserves more. The same goes for Corey Stoll, otherwise known as “that guy from stuff”. Tina Fey and Adam Driver were unsurprisingly the best of the bunch, with Jason Bateman putting in a decent job in the lead role. Rose Byrne (playing Judd’s potential new love interest) can be quite funny, but her manic pixie dream girl grew tiresome here.
I did appreciate that This is Where I Leave You showed that most relationships have their flaws, and that not everyone gets their fairy tale ending. I enjoyed watching this high quality cast, delivering occasionally funny dialogue, and the little kid on his potty was a consistently funny sight gag. But we’ve seen better films about dysfunctional families during the grieving process (such as August: Osage County) which show that this genre can be done oh-so-much-better. Films like this should produce tears, and I wasn’t even close.