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1 review, 3 user ratings

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This Is Where I Leave You
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by Jaycie

"Take it or leave it. I took it, though."
3 stars

Upon learning that Jonathan Tropper's hilarious novel This is Where I Leave You was taking to the big screen, I immediately got worried. This past summer hasn't been a great one for book adaptations (*cough* The Giver *cough*) or stories about middle-aged Jewish men who need a reality check (*cough* Wish I Was Here *cough*). Thankfully, despite the inevitable difficulties of translating an inner monologue-heavy book to celluloid, this film manages to give its highly marketable cast some solid material. The result is a pleasant fall popcorn flick, although you would miss out on little by reading the book and skipping its film version entirely.

We begin with Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) having three very unfortunate bombs dropped on him. First, his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) has spent the better part of a year having much better sex with his boss, obnoxious shock-jock Wade (Dax Shepard). (I deeply regret that this scene was not identical to its book equivalent; I won't give away how that goes, except to say it involves a birthday cake and spermicide.) Second, his father has just died. Third, his dying wish was for Judd and his quarrelsome siblings - Wendy (Tina Fey), Philip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll) - to return to their childhood home, families in tow, to sit shiva under the watchful eye of their much-too-open mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda). For those not in the know, shiva means they have to stay in their house for a week and talk to old relatives and family friends - and each other. Pass all the Manischewitz.

Every member of this family has his or her own problems, and the need to explore and resolve them all is met more effectively in print. Yet at no point will the viewer be completely lost. Collectively, the actors bring enough personality to their roles that you wind up rooting for all of them to this extent or that one. Particular standouts are Fey as the snarky but loving sole sister of the quartet, and Fonda, who manages just the right combination of smothering and self-absorbed. Bateman, unfortunately, is a weak choice for the ostensible lead; any number of brown-haired actors in their mid-40s could have turned in the same performance.

However, that may be because he is saddled with the majority of the movie's dramatic moments. Bateman's co-stars take the lead in most of the comedic scenes, which are far stronger than anything played for tears or contemplation. A notable exception is when Bateman finally lets loose on his absent ex-wife while in conversation with one elderly Mrs. Applebaum. In no way does this compare to Fey's "I'm Wendy Altman, BITCH!" later. (You won't find that in the book.)

Screenwriting duties belonged to Tropper himself, who certainly knows his own story best, but could have done a better job balancing motifs that didn't get due background (the dead father, almost an afterthought) with those that got too much, primarily a subplot involving Judd's teenage ex, manic pixie Penny (Rose Byrne), pointless despite occasional cuteness. To his everlasting credit, he drastically improves a scene between Judd and his baby-craving sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn) whose book version could charitably be described as sexual assault. This indicates that while Tropper's talent as a screenwriter is raw, it is a talent. Meanwhile, the light hand applied to the Altman family's upstate New York home is of the better contributions from director Shawn Levy, keeping up his track record of "not bad." Unremarkable, not bad.

That may make him the perfect director for this film. Like his style, it will make you care, but not to the point of tears. It will make you laugh, but not until your stomach begs for mercy. It will make you react, but not so much that you're still talking about it the next week. It's a good enough movie. But if you can only pick one variant, pick the book.

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originally posted: 09/22/14 03:39:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/30/14 Langano Fun flick with a great cast. 3 stars
9/25/14 Timothy Walked out, horrible movie 1 stars
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  19-Sep-2014 (R)
  DVD: 16-Dec-2014


  DVD: 16-Dec-2014

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