Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sad, Hilarious, Clever: This Is Where I Leave You Is Like All Of Parenthood In 103 Minutes!

The Good: Amazing acting, Wonderful character development, Good plot development
The Bad: Crowded cast/characters get somewhat underdeveloped, Some of the twists are a little less surprising than they are predictable.
The Basics: This Is Where I Leave You is a wonderful family-centered comedy that involves some of the best actors of the day in a tight series of revelations when the Altman family returns home to try to deal with the death of Marty Altman.

With my wife and I on our first vacation in years, we’ve actually been taking some time to catch up on some of the new movies that we’ve missed. While I went into The Giver blind, we did a double feature and I was able to pick the second film in our double feature. I chose This Is Where I Leave You based on my love of dramedies and by being impressed by the cast. This Is Where I Leave You is clearly Oscarbait and this weekend kicks off the real beginning of Oscar Pandering Season as a result. Unlike last year’s Oscarbait August: Osage County (reviewed here!), This Is Where I Leave You is entertaining, watchable, and worth seeing more than once. All of the hype and potential of This Is Where I Leave You is realized in the film and for those wooed in by the impressive cast of August: Osage County who were left sour by the oppressive tone, This Is Where I Leave You offers a sense of redemption. This film is not (at all) a waste of time.

That is not to say that This Is Where I Leave You is flawless. Just as I have serious issues with understanding what goes on in the head of men who would cheat on Shania Twain or Christie Brinkley (or Eva Longoria or Jennifer Aniston . . .), This Is Where I Leave You forces viewers to buy the premise that a woman with all Jason Bateman has to offer (albeit in his role of Judd Altman) would screw around. While I am becoming more and more of a fan of the works of Dax Shepard, especially because he is pretty wonderful in Parenthood (season five is now reviewed here!), in This Is Where I Leave You, he plays a douchebag and accepting that Judd’s wife Quinn would have a yearlong affair with his misogynistic Wade is a tough pill to swallow. For those concerned about such things: the falling apart of Judd’s marriage is hardly a spoiler; it is the beginning of This Is Where I Leave You, not where the film is going.

Judd Altman manages to get out of work at a reasonable time on his wife’s birthday and returns home with her cake to discover her having sex with his boss, Wade Beaufort (whose radio show Judd produces). Leaving his wife Quinn, Judd moves into his own tiny apartment and when he finally answers a call from his sister, Wendy, he is told that their father has just died. Judd, Wendy, Paul, and (at the very last moment as the funeral is going on) Phillip converge upon their childhood house to try to bring comfort to their mother, Hillary. Hillary insists that Maury’s last wish was for the family to sit Shiva at the house, which seems to be an impossible task given that the four siblings have not been together in years. The initial set-up seems an intriguing mix of amusing and disturbing: Judd has not told anyone but Wendy about Quinn’s infidelity, Wendy’s husband is neglectful, Paul and his wife Alice have been struggling for years to have a child, Philip has started dating his therapist, Tracy, and Hillary has gotten a breast enhancement that only makes her children more and more uncomfortable with her overly forward nature.

But the week of sitting Shiva soon begins to illustrate the cracks in the family that drove everyone apart. Judd is goaded by Wendy into telling everyone that Quinn was cheating on him and he finds Penny Moore, who had an interest in him back in high school never left town. Wendy is abandoned by her husband and she finds that the Altman family’s neighbor, Horry, is still the man she longs for. Judd’s life is complicated by Quinn popping back up, pregnant, which causes a deeper rift between him and Paul. While Phillip cheats on Tracy, Judd struggles to figure out what he really wants in life and how he might best find happiness.

This Is Where I Leave You is similar to Parenthood in that the Altman family is a large family of adult children who are all coming together at the house they grew up in, now with their spouses, significant others, and children and their lives are all in shambles. Unlike Parenthood, This Is Where I Leave You is not hampered with the pretense of servicing all of the characters equally. As a result, most of This Is Where I Leave You focuses on Judd Altman (in fact, only one scene that features Wendy and her mother sticks out as being devoid of Judd in the entire film!). While that might seem to be a weakness – Phillip and Paul are comparatively neglected – it allows This Is Where I Leave You to make a truly rich character journey for Judd Altman.

And Judd is an interesting character. Having played his entire life safe, Judd eloquently notes that he made all of his decisions in life to avoid getting to the exact place that he finds himself in This Is Where I Leave You. Despite Wendy predicting that Judd and Penny might hook up, it is not truly unsatisfying when Judd begins to open up to feeling enough to be interested in her romantically. The viewer wants to root for Judd to have positive experiences and love and the more This Is Where I Leave You, the more the film becomes his story (despite having ample depth given to Paul and Alice, Hillary and Wendy). In fact, only Phillip is really characterized more as a flat archetype or stereotype than a well-rounded character.

The reason This Is Where I Leave You will continue to be talked about as Oscar nominations come down is the powerhouse cast. While Jason Bateman might have given the best performance of his life in the wordless scene at the beginning as he goes through an exceptional emotional range when Judd sees Quinn with Wade, he manages to bring the humor back in scenes like the confrontation with Wade at the hospital later on. Bateman and Tina Fey have amazing on-screen chemistry as brother and sister when they argue flawlessly as siblings are want to do.

The rest of the cast is equally amazing. From Jane Fonda’s performance of Hillary to the way that Debra Monk looks and sounds nothing like she did on NYPD Blue, This Is Where I Leave You is a stunning work of acting. Corey Stoll proves that his watchable quality in the first season of House Of Cards (reviewed here!) was not a fluke and he makes the viewer wish there were more of his character Paul in the film. Adam Driver is decent as Phillip and both Connie Britton and Kathryn Hahn give strong supporting roles as love interests in the film (Hahn and Stoll have great realistic chemistry in portraying an aged romance). Even Rose Byrne’s somewhat quirky role of Penny is enough to redeem her to audiences who thought Bad Neighbors (reviewed here!) was in pretty bad taste earlier this year.

Ultimately, This Is Where I Leave You is funny, with decent chunks of the film exploring a realistic family dynamic that makes it entirely dramatic. Fortunately, the writing, direction and cast make the transitions enjoyable to watch and make This Is Where I Leave You a must-see play-on-film.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
Hit By Lightning
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Zero Theorem
Life Of Crime
The Maze Runner
The Giver
The Expendables 3


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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