Family dysfunction is a gold mine for cinematic endeavors. What better way to add dysfunction to a situation than with a death in the family. “This Is Where I Leave You” examines what happens when a family that doesn’t necessarily like each other is forced to live under the same roof for a week.
After the death of their father, the Altman children descend on their childhood home. Once there, they are told that their father’s final wish was for them to sit shiva. As they come together old wounds come to the surface and their current problems become more obvious. Judd (Jason Bateman), in particular, is having a difficult time. He just found out that his wife was cheating on him with his boss. Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is trapped in a loveless marriage. Paul (Corey Stoll) is resentful for being the one who stayed behind and is having trouble getting his wife pregnant. Youngest child Phillip (Adam Driver, TV’s “Girls”) hasn’t quite ever learned how to grow up, and comes home with his wealthy cougar girlfriend.
Based on the book by Jonathan Tropper, who also wrote the screenplay, “This Is Where I Leave You” offers some touching moments as the family attempts to reconnect. The film doesn’t have the depth of Tropper’s book and leaves out many of the darker moments. Rather than being walked in on when Alice propositions her brother-in-law (and former boyfriend), in the book is basically rapes Judd in hopes of getting pregnant. Additionally, Paul is much more bitter in the book due to an injury that he holds against Judd. These darker elements might not have made the film as marketable to the masses, but it would have created a better world for the viewers to get involved in watching.
One change from the book that is welcome, due to the lack of a first person narrator onscreen, is the increased role for Fey. She goes more dramatic here than in most of her previous films and proves that she can be the straight (wo)man, as well as being the comedic character. Fey has the only female role that has any substance to it. Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, and Connie Britton are all sorely underutilized in the film. Britton suffers the worst without ever getting a big scene to strut her stuff, even her exit from the film is overshadowed by other events.
The film is jam packed with an all-star cast, but is also an ensemble film in the truest sense of the word. Each of them have their scenes, with no one getting a disproportionate amount of screen time compared to everyone else. All of the actors are equally matched and none of the major players ends up trying to outshine the others. There’s a chemistry that allows you to believe the cast has known each other forever, and could quite possibly be a family.
“This Is Where I Leave You” offers a look at a family that may not like each other very much, but is always there when they need each other. It’s a shame that the filmmakers shied away from really dealing with the family drama in order to give the film more levity. In doing so, the film leaves some of the best material on the cutting room floor.