Drama finds the most relatable situations when family is involved. Regardless of the extent of their dysfunction, the dynamics of blood trump almost all other means of tension. Other strong elements are milling the past for regret, the death of someone beloved unexpectedly, or the intrusion of a person or event that forcefully reshapes everything it touches. “This is Where I Leave You” seeks to explore it all.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has played things simple for the sole purpose of achieving his ideal life. When Judd returns home early from work to surprise his wife on her birthday, he finds he mid coitus with his boss. Shortly afterward, Judd learns his father has passed away. As his life sits in crumbles, unemployed and divorcing Judd must now spend a week with his siblings and mother as they grieve collectively. Though Judd is struggling, his brothers and sisters are having issues and secrets all their own: older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) and his wife are desperate to have a child; sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to a man more focused on his phone; and youngest Phillip (Adam Driver) exists in a blissful hormone-fueled reality where he doesn’t have to grow up.
Bateman was the ideal candidate for Judd. The balance of levity and severe pain is worn on his face in every scene. Backed by a cast largely known for television shows, the Altman is a dysfunctional bunch. Anchoring the clan is Jane Fonda as a therapist/writer that has mined the child’s lives for content, pushing the family to confront each other again and again. The only problem is the execution.
The script seems competent enough, but aims for the most rudimentary clichés in family melodrama. This feels like a rip-off of “The Big Chill” that swaps a group of estranged friends for an estranged family. It hits all the paint-by-numbers twists of infidelity, loss, new love, and regret that remove any excitement of the story. Those who enjoy the movie will do so because of the individual performances. Bateman and Fey have solid chemistry and are always a pleasure to watch. Underused Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant shine in the little screen time given.
In the end, the performances can’t elevate the film above mediocrity. They give it their all, but the attempt only heightens the melodrama. With a cast likes this it should have been a slam dunk. 2.5 out of 5 stars
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