A good dramedy is hard for any director to pull off. While there are a fair amount of greats —Juno, 50/50, all of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, not to mention most of John Hughes’ filmography, and any film written by Richard Curtis — director Shawn Levy now gives it a go with This Is Where I Leave You. Considering his past films include Big Fat Liar, Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, all three Night at the Museums, Date Night, Real Steel, and The Internship, saying this is his best film yet can’t help but sound like extremely faint praise. While Levy is no Cameron Crowe, it looks like he should make more adult films. Then maybe we could instill just a tiny bit of trust when we see his name on a poster.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) loves his life — working for radio shock jock Wade Boulanger (Dax Shepard) — and his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer). That is until the day he comes home to find them in bed together. To make matters worse, a few weeks later, Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to tell him that their father has died. Now, the Altmans have come home to roost to console their best-selling oversharing oversexed mother Hillary (Jane Fonda), who informs them that their father’s dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva (the week-long Jewish practice of intense mourning). Also on hand are the remaining siblings: Paul (Corey Stoll) and wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn), and Phillip (Adam Driver), who brings along his therapist-turned-lover, Tracy (Connie Britton). Now, the Altmans have to deal with the mourning process, and each other, after Hillary grounds them all, forcing them into the week-long Shiva.
I can’t help but think that Cameron Crowe could have directed the hell out of this material, but as it is, Levy has made good on Jonathan Tropper’s adapted screenplay of his own novel. The glue holding it all together is the cast. Even minor characters get a few chances to shine — particularly Ben Schwartz as childhood friend, now rabbi, “Boner.” The cast all act like siblings, bringing subtle nuances to make the Altmans feel like a real family. Even when they start to physically fight with each other there’s no true malice, even if someone winds up with a piece of glass sticking out of his head.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same opportunity to put their talent to good use. Rose Byrne shows up as Judd’s unrequited love Penny, who doesn’t quite nail the motormouth character. And Timothy Olyphant is totally wasted as Wendy’s ex-boyfriend suffering from a brain injury. I can’t help but think that the sporadic toilet humor involving Wendy’s toddler stems from Levy’s old stomping grounds, but it only shows up in a few scenes. While it may run a little long, anyone with a family as crazy as the Altmans will easily relate. For those who can’t, at least you can leave telling yourself things could be worse. This Is Where I Leave You never forges new ground, and there’s not one surprise in the whole film, but as a minor diversion in the dramedy sub-genre, thankfully, it’s as good as you’d expect with such an exceptional cast.
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