Directed by: Shawn Levy
Premise: Based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper. When their father dies, four middle aged siblings and their families come together and live under the same roof for a week.
What Works: This is Where I Leave You mixes comedy and drama and the filmmakers manage their tone pretty well. The script is witty without being too self-consciously snarky and the humor complements the drama, usually pointing out the comic qualities of the family’s tragedies and dysfunctions. A lot of the success of This is Where I Leave You is due to its great cast. The film is led by Jason Bateman as a professionally successful married man who discovers that his wife is cheating on him with his boss. Bateman is known for playing caustic characters but in This is Where I Leave You he gives a much more nuanced performance. His siblings are played by Corey Stoll as the eldest brother, who has never left their hometown, Tina Fey as a sister in a loveless marriage, and Adam Driver as the black sheep of the family. Each of these actors does a very good job. Tina Fey in particular stands out. She has never had a major role in an R-rated film before and she proves herself capable of doing both comedy and drama. This is Where I Leave You also includes two notable supporting performances. Rose Byrne plays an aloof high school classmate of Jason Bateman’s character and Byrne adds a lot of energy to her scenes. Timothy Olyphant is cast as a brain damaged neighbor who has a history with Tina Fey’s character. Olyphant does not play the role for sympathy but he creates a character that is far more empathetic than most of the core cast.
What Doesn’t: This is Where I Leave You is overflowing with characters and subplots but nothing in the film really gets resolved. Part of the problem is the preponderance of storylines; there’s enough here to fill a season-long television drama and it’s all compressed into less than two hours. The density of the story is too much and just juggling all of these subplots and keeping them relevant is a challenge. But the filmmakers don’t really try to do more than that. These characters never learn anything about themselves or each other. The amount of story jammed into This is Where I Leave You hurts the film’s credibility. Domestic dramas like this can only sustain so much family dysfunction before it all starts feeling contrived. That’s the problem here. The characters’ lives are already complicated and the filmmakers keep heaping it on with the family members seeming to go out of their way to create more drama. To make matters worse, much of it is the same drama. Three of the four siblings reconnect with a former flame during their time in town and Bateman’s character does it multiple times. It may be that some sort of parallelism is intended here but the filmmakers come across as bereft of ideas. Another of the clichés of the domestic drama is the big speech scene and This is Where I Leave You has several; this is a movie with a number of high profile actors and nearly everyone engages in Aaron Sorkin-like speechifying. These scenes are supposed to punch up the drama but they come across as indulgences for the actors. One of the stranger aspects of This is Where I Leave You is the absence of the father. The family has gathered because the patriarch of the family is gone but in the course of the movie little about the father or his family’s relationship to him is addressed. The very end of the movie makes a last minute reveal that, aside from injecting yet more drama into these people’s lives, reveals that the whole premise of the picture is built on a red herring. That betrays the assumptions that the audience has been operating upon and it’s an irritating way to tell a story.
Bottom Line: This is Where I Leave You features an excellent cast chewing the scenery amid a script that doesn’t quite utilize their talents. Viewers who are fans of any or all of these actors will want to check out the picture but its storytelling suffers from too many basic mistakes.
Episode: #510 (September 28, 2014)