The 400-Word-Review: This Is Where I Leave You
By Sean Collier
September 22, 2014
This Is Where I Leave You is a well-meaning dramedy that can’t quite keep up with its own ambition: it’s got a script that stretches too far to cover its own weaknesses, a director that wants to add emotional resonance through elbow grease and a stunt-cast actress who exposes that she has nothing left to offer.
And yet it’s still kind of likable. Call it the Tina Fey effect.
Judd (Jason Bateman) arrives home from his job as a shock-jock DJ’s (Dax Shepard) producer to find his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) in bed with the jock. In short order, sister Wendy (Fey) calls to reveal that their father has died and mom (Jane Fonda) is calling the clan home. This includes shiftless Philip (Adam Driver) and his doomed girlfriend Tracy (Connie Britton), humorless Paul (Corey Stoll) and his baby-crazy wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) and at least a half-dozen other key characters.
In any but the most capable hands (which are not at work here,) that much traffic means that some plotlines are going to get more attention — and see more success — than others. For all that This is Where I Leave You focuses on family, the best of the film’s many stories steps outside of it, as Judd attempts to reconnect with childhood crush Penny (Rose Byrne). In a cast of all-stars, the versatile Byrne is a surprise MVP.
Not so for Fonda, who has lost just about everything she ever brought to the table; the only scenes worse than her attempts at comedy are her attempts at drama. Two key players, Hahn and Timothy Olyphant (as a former love interest of Wendy’s), are woefully under-utilized; Fey and Bateman do as well as you’d expect, and Driver establishes himself as a star.
Game as the cast is, though, they’re pitted against the efforts of director Shawn Levy, who in a long career has very rarely achieved competence. He’s determined to drag an unabashedly maudlin tone into a comedy, leaving the jokes to go one way and the mood to go another.
And yet, a talented group of performers and a few good threads in the script just barely drags This Is Where I Leave You into the end zone. They probably didn’t intend to make a messy movie about a messy family, but there’s some symmetry there: the product is as a lovable screw-up, just like the kids.
My Rating: 6/10