A Comedy Stalls

This Is Where I Leave You

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            This Is Where I Leave You
is one of the worst movie misfires in many moons. Given a good premise and a fine cast, failure must have been hard to achieve. Premise: after a father’s death, the widow summons her four children to sit Shiva for seven days in the matriarchal hope that they will get to know each other as adults. Instead, despite the implied promise of both comedy and drama, it fizzles like dying fireworks drifting to earth. How, you may ask, can this happen when the lead roles are in the hands of Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda?
            Since Jonathan Tropper wrote both the screenplay and the novel on which the movie is based, he gets much of the blame, but it is director Shawn Levy who is guilty of gross overstatement. Don’t look for any sophistication here.
            On paper, it sounds good. Mom (Jane Fonda) is the predictably well preserved 70-something woman of the Fonda workout tapes. Sharply intrusive, she fires acerbic comments at her adult children as they misbehave. Wendy (Tina Fey) is the smart daughter who loves and defends her brother, Judd (Jason Bateman). Judd, having discovered his wife in bed with his boss in the opening scene, is newly separated and understandably miserable.
            Phillip (Adam Driver) is the wastrel who enriches the gathering by bringing Tracy (Connie Britton) into the gathering; she is his experiment with an older woman. Paul (Corey Stoll) is the son trying to run the family business. Tracking the players is a full time job for the audience and except for those played by Bateman, Fey, and Fonda, none of them is the slightest bit interesting or funny.
            The actors are handed a script that could have delivered two hours of raunchy, contemporary fun, but director Levy erases all that. It escapes him entirely that four letter words can be sublime when they slide unexpectedly into conversation as verbal punctuation. He kills all the fun and surprise of that kind of humor by firing the words like cannon balls into the dialogue. The bedroom scenes are laden with silly exaggeration that demolishes humor. The pot smoking rabbi is a ludicrous fool.
            Jane Fonda, long time good comedian, is robbed of her impact by the exaggeration of what she already is – fit and fine at seventy. Even though she’s playing a cartoon of herself, she looks silly. Only Rose Byrne’s Penny gives us relief as she falls in love with Judd. Jason Bateman’s Judd is a fine character, a temporarily depressed guy trying desperately to be complicated and interesting instead of boring and predictable like the rest of the world. His siblings are terrible role models.
            The most appropriate verb for this family is “lunge.” Everyone lunges at everyone else – in sex, in anger, in conversation. “Is it the whole world, or is it just this family?” the appealing, ordinary brother asks. It’s just this family, Judd, just this family.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : This Is Where I Leave You
Word Count : 497
Studio : Warner Bros.
Running Time : 1:43
Rating : R

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