This Is Where I Leave You is apparently based on a dramatic comedy novel by the same name, which was adapted for the screen by the novelist, Jonathan Tropper. I haven’t read the book, but I was initially drawn to the cast, Jason Bateman continues to have a spot in my heart long after Arrested Development he has kept me as a fan with Extract, Bad Words, and now this. Adam Driver and Corey Stoll have been two of my favorite television actors as of late, so it’s great to see them getting meaty character roles in feature films where they can start to be considered for more, and bigger, roles, as both men deserve it. I’m a begrudging fan of Tina Fey‘s and here she does what she does best, wins you over with aw-shucks charm, but this character has a certain intelligence and like-ability to her that you tend to forgive her. These four play siblings, whose father has died after a battle with cancer. Their mother, played by Jane Fonda gathers them all to sit shiva for their father, an atheist, as she proclaims it to be his dying wish.
The four decide to honor the last wish of their father, no matter how little they want to, or how hard they know it will be. Thriving on dysfunction, the family has split apart over the years, and all the siblings have dealt differently with the book that their mother wrote about them in their adolescence, a child psychology book that examines each of them. Of course, all these emotions and tensions bottled up in a week-long mourning ceremony most likely won’t go over well, and of course, it doesn’t. I almost expected this movie to be more dramatic based on how it was portrayed in the trailers, but it’s not, it’s actually mostly humorous. There is drama, and good acting all around to support it, but the drama doesn’t become the focus of the story, the funny healing process of this family is what becomes the centerpiece, and it’s fun getting to know the characters along the way.
Bateman plays Judd, the middle brother, as a man lost in life, a man that should have looked to his father for advice but didn’t, and now his father is gone. His older brother Paul married one of his ex-girlfriends, making for a strained relationship in an already strained family. Tina Fey plays the only sister that just tries to keep all of her brothers in line, and Adam Driver is the youngest brother, the black sheep, who brings home his former psychologist and current girlfriend who is about 20 years his senior.
Of course, in the process of sitting shiva, the family is forced to face its inner conflicts head on whether they like it or not, and everything comes to a boil. The fights themselves make for the most hilarity, and like I said before, don’t let the seemingly sad subject matter and family dysfunction fool you, this is a comedy at heart, but it’s about these characters, these people and how they interact with each other and affect each other’s lives. Timothy Olyphant and Rose Byrne turn up as characters outside the family that have been similarly impacted by the family, along with Ben Schwartz, Dax Shepard, and Debra Monk doing the same in even smaller, but no less hilarious, roles.
The subject matter and predictable plot is out-shined by the fantastic character work from everyone involved, and at the end of the day it’s just a good movie. Not your typical heartwarming story, but somewhat invigorating to the human spirit just the same. It’s not quite as funny as Death at a Funeral but the emotional depth replaces some of the darker and more dedicated laughs in Death at a Funeral. I enjoyed it, and when it’s on HBO in 6 months to a year, I won’t mind enjoying it yet again. Not great or unforgettable, but funnier than anything else that’s out.