Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie Review: 'This is Where I Leave You' leaves you wishing for more

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This is Where I Leave You is not a particularly good movie. It relies on a cloying sentimentality, arbitrary conflict and leaves much of its significant potential wasted.

And yet, it is not unenjoyable viewing, largely due to the incredible talent of its assembled cast that paradoxically leads to unattainable expectations.

Truthfully, if you were to assemble Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Cory Stoll, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne and Connie Britton for a dramatic reading of Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam,” I would likely rise to my feet in applause. Yet that performance, just like This is Where I Leave You, would be a tragic squandering of what this ensemble could have achieved.

The film is largely centered on Judd (Bateman) who is cuckolded by his man-child of a boss and whilst growing an impressive breakup beard learns that his father has passed away. His father’s dying wish was that his children sit Shiva, a week-long mourning ritual in Judaism that involves the immediate family of the deceased sitting and receiving guests during each of seven days.

And so the Altman children gather: namely eldest son Paul (Stoll) and his child-starved wife (Hahn); frenzied sister Wendy (Fey) and her prop of a family; Judd, who immediately reconnects with an old crush (Byrne); and youngest son Phillip (Driver) the immature screw-up dating his much-older former psychiatrist (Britton).

The family is dysfunctional in a textbook movie way, with outrageously explosive scuffles never steering the plot away from the inevitable group hug at the end. But while that saccharine reconciliation is a foregone conclusion, its unclear how most of the characters have achieved any sort of emotional evolution by the time the credits roll.

These are argumentative family members who maintain a lovingly distant relationship, thrust together by tragic circumstances only to again separate and argue, lovingly, when the credits roll. Any progress is incremental and in the case of Fey it’s unclear what transformation, if any, has taken place during the story.

And yet. And yet.

This is one of the best casts ever assembled and the sheer joy of watching them squabble is delightful despite the sometime asinine plot. Driver especially brings an unpredictable mania to the roll, further cementing his status as a national treasure, while the always excellent Stoll and Britton are unfortunately sidelined to make way for other toys.

It’s a bit of a shift for director Shawn Levy, who of late has been mostly consumed with the Night at the Museum franchise, short shift comedies The Internship and Date Night and, of course, the robot Boxing Movie Reel Steel. Levy never quite hits the dramatic notes required by the films more emotional moments, but handles the comedic elements with a breezy ease that almost makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

Grade: B-
*This Is Where I Leave You opens nationwide on Friday, September 19.

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