THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Jonathan Tropper, novel by Jonathan Tropper
Cast: Jason Bateman, Tiny Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne
Screened at: Warner Screening Room, NYC, 9/2/14
Opens: September 19, 2014
We’re all familiar with mother-in-law jokes but a recent family gag is this: An obituary notes that the gentleman at the moment of death “was surrounded by his family, and also by his loved ones.” You choose your friends, not your family. Does this mean that you will like your friends more than your own kin? It’s likely, especially since you can, without bad conscience, move to another location and desert your pals. You can do the same with family, not seeing your folks for years on end, but the absence may make you feel guilty. Such is the case with the Altman circle, two generations (three if you add the little kid, Cole (Cade Lappin) who carries his portable potty around as though it were a security blanket). The key expression thrown about particularly by middle-aged Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is “it’s complicated.” While not original, it best describes the movie thematically, a picture that is based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel, which deals with the Foxman family—name changed by screenwriter Tropper, adapting his own book, to Altman.
“This is Where I Leave You” is the kind of movie that dares you not to identify with at least one of the characters. Family blood notwithstanding, everyone in the Altman family is an individual. So, which one are you? Could you be Judd Altman, who anchors the story, a man who is now jobless since he caught his boss, Wade Beaufort (Dax Shepard) in bed with his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer)? Might you identify with Wendy Altman (Tina Fey), the family sister who has shaped the destinies of her sibs, a bossy woman but one in a loveless marriage? How about Paul Altman (Corey Stoll) whose cell phone vibrates each time his wife is ovulating, a woman who loves her husband but, looking around at how everyone appears to have a child or two is climbing the walls with envy and frustration?
If you’re particularly lucky, you will relate to the family matriarch, Hillary (Jane Fonda), a psychologist who is about to go on a book tour, and in the typical Jane Fonda fashion is free of repressions. She thinks nothing of embarrassing one of her brood by announcing penis anecdotes, will certainly not cover up her “bionic” breasts when her more repressed son Judd turns red with embarrassment, and has a surprise in store for the family during the concluding moments. In one scene she implicitly compares a family member to her newly departed husband who, she reminds all, was “hung.”
It’s likely that the Altman circle would not have been brought together were it not for Hillary’s husband’s death and the requirement that Jews get together for shiva (Hebrew for “seven) for one week under the same roof (filmed by Terry Stacey in Great Neck). Never mind that dad was an atheist and mom was not Jewish at all. But this is not a claustrophobic experience: the individuals peel out for reasons of their own: Judd, to get together with his high-school crush Penny Moore (Rose Byrne), an ice skating teacher, Phillip Altman (Adam Driver), who has a good business sense and heads around town in his Porsche—but is the family immature jerk, and Wendy, who in a maternity clinic shows her skill with a solid left hook.
For a movie to involve an audience, the family should have universal resonance, and how could this not? After all, just about every character trait short of serial murder is covered by this large group. Still, while this is billed as a dramatic comedy, there are no big laughs and few tears, much of the action simply plowing ahead with considerable melodrama, a few comic situations, and much soul searching about what might have been. This is a switch for its director, Shawn Levy, better known to the public for his raucous comedy “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” in 2009 and mock detective drama “Pink Panther.”
Rated R. 103 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B