Thursday, September 18, 2014
Review: "This Is Where I Leave You"
I'm not sure if "This Is Where I Leave You" is the most original film ever made, but what it lacks in freshness it makes up for with delectable actors and snappy scenes. The Altmans are borderline crazy, self-obsessed and narcissistic, but somehow 103 minutes with them feels like time well spent.
Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") from a screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, based on his own novel, the movie brings together the four adult children of the Altman clan after their father passes away. Mom Hillary (Jane Fonda) is a real piece of work, a showboating therapist who wrote a best-selling book, "Cradle and All," in which she spilled the intimate details of her kids' tumultuous upraising.
They have not, unsurprisingly, turned into well-adjusted adults. And they're none too pleased about their mom's insistence that they sit Shiva together for seven days, per their father's dying request. (This, despite being only partially and nominally Jewish.)
Judd (Jason Bateman) is the fulcrum, the character upon which all the others pivot. A successful radio producer and one of those guys who seems to have the perfect little life planned out, he's thrown for a loop when he catches his wife sleeping with his boss.
Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is brittle and angry, mother to two young kids and married to an on-the-go businessman who can't put down the phone and work for even a few minutes, not to mention witness the miracle if his child's potty training.
Paul (Corey Stoll) is the oldest and most responsible, the one kid who stuck around in his hometown to take over the business from his father. He and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) have been trying without success to get pregnant, and the pressure and constant questions about their progress is like splitting a rail.
The baby of the clan is Phillip (Adam Driver), born years after the others and partially raised by them. A natural-born screw-up with an impish talent for needling others, Phillip is dating a much older woman (Connie Britton) who acts as his enabler and sugar momma.
The filmmakers essentially throw this grab-bag of resentment, sibling rivalry and neuroticism into a pot and set it to a slow boil. There are arguments, jokes, bonding, more fighting, and so on.
It doesn't sound like much, but the cast really drives the material to terrific heights. They click in a way that you rarely see large ensemble casts do; usually each actor is trying to accomplish their own goals for their character and sacrifice the group dynamic. This is the sort of movie that you can't imagine any other performers in those roles.
A few minor characters flit in and out of the foreground. Across the street is Hillary's dependable friend Linda (Debra Monk) and her son Horry (Timothy Olyphant), a former beau of Wendy's who suffered a terrible brain injury years ago. He sort of wanders around, helpful but forgetful, like a more verbally proficient Boo Radley.
Wade's estranged wife (Abigail Spencer) turns up, pleading for a second chance and with more drama to share. Penny Moore is a townie (Rose Byrne) who's stoked a long-burning fire for Wade, and he's at a low point where those glowing embers are looking pretty good. I also enjoyed Ben Schwartz as a young rabbi who can't outrun his horndog teen reputation and nickname.
Despite not a lot of screen time to spread around to every character's story, the film does a good job of making each of them distinct and relatable.
"This Is Where I Leave You" plays out fairly predictably, but I didn't mind the lack of surprises because the journey getting there is so caustically funny and unexpectedly heartwarming. When the Altmans aren't verbally punching each other -- sometimes physically, too -- you want to give them all a good squeeze.