Genre: Comedy
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard, Jane Fonda
RunTime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language and Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website:

Opening Day: 18 September 2014

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.

Movie Review:

Grief is cathartic. Just ask any one of Hollywood’s dysfunctional families, and they will tell you that there is nothing like a death to bring every single one together for a chance at reconciliation. And so if you’ve seen last year’s ensemble drama ‘August: Osage County’, you can pretty much guess what the death of the patriarch which sparks off the reunion between four adult siblings (played by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) and their mother (played by Jane Fonda) does for this Jewish family.

Adapted by Johnathan Tropper from his 2009 novel of the same title, 'This Is Where I Leave You' is built around one week of a reunion among the members of the Altman family gathered in their parental home to observe the rite of Shiva - no matter that their father was a self professed atheist. Apparently Dad had told Mum on his deathbed that he wished to be mourned for seven days, so while the squabbling siblings recoil at the thought of spending a week next to each other, they dutifully assume their seats next to one another where once a year the family's Christmas tree stands.

As you've probably already guessed, this is the kind of movie where each member has his or her own emotional baggage. The eldest Paul (Stoll of FX's 'The Strain') is quietly resentful of being the only one among them who stayed behind in their sleepy hometown of Westchester County to manage their father's sporting's goods business, and takes it out on his free-spirited baby brother Philip (Driver) who drives a sports car but still behaves as irresponsibly as a child. Meanwhile, the mild-mannered Judd (Bateman) is struggling to come to terms with his wife's infidelity, having in the film's opening scenes stumbled upon her having sex with his radio jock boss (Dax Shepard) in their bed on the occasion of his birthday.

And last but not least is Wendy (Fey), functionally the most normal of the lot but is herself dealing with a husband who is too attached at work to be emotionally and physical present for her. To top it all off is matriarch Hilary (Fonda), a celebrated child psychologist best known for her book 'Cradle & All' in which she laid out every secret there was to know about her kids; oh and did we mention that despite her age, she still believes in the boob job every now and then to make herself less unattractive.

Taking a cautious step into more adult territory, director Shawn Levy (better known for his 'Night at the Museum' franchise) allow his characters to bicker and brawl with each other before engineering a series of hijinks that allow them to come together as family. A good part of the former falls to the chemistry of the actors, which thankfully this ensemble pulls off beautifully. Bateman is likeable as always, Driver's persona is no different from that which he plays on HBO's 'Girls', Stoll is engaging whether stoic or loosened up and Fey holds her own amidst her male companions, and when they come together, the atmosphere is electrifying.

Not quite so believable are the gags that follow - besides the deliberately raunchy humour, a sequence where Paul, Philip and Judd smoke pot and set off the fire alarm at a synagogue is amusing but too evidently contrived. It is only in the last third that Levy lets his foot off the pedal so that the movie might find its own rhythm and settle into something more assured and measured; indeed, Tropper is also to be blamed for the movie's somewhat frenetic plotting, and it is only very much later on that he allows his characters to develop more organically.

Though it does come a tad too late, there's no denying that there is still poignancy to this tale of fractured relationships that find healing. Not all the characters fare equally in the regard, but the one that matter ultimately do. Bateman for instance comes to terms with his marriage and impending parenthood with dignity and humanity. Same goes for Stoll, who comes to see that the hand he was dealt with isn't necessarily the worst of the lot. And Driver gets to see that life doesn't wait for you to grow up, no matter how much you wished it would.

The supporting characters here do their part to make their respective arcs entertaining and affecting, but between a wife who can't wait to get pregnant, a middle aged woman who loves by letting go and a mother who only wants for her family to be OK, it is Fonda's turn as the latter which leaves the deepest impression. Levy steers the performances with a steady hand, but it certainly helps when you have assembled a calibre of actors and actresses like the one he has got here.

Yet this isn't the award worthy prestige picture which you may think it is, not because of the acting but because the writing and the storytelling just isn't as compelling as such dysfunctional family dramas ought to be. It does amuse and it does tug at your heartstrings but Tropper's own adaptation suffers from cliché. Where does it leave its audience? Caught somewhere between polite praise and nonchalance we suppose, leaving you wishing that it could have been better.

Movie Rating:

(Fitfully amusing and poignant in parts, this uneven dramedy tries too hard to be a crowd pleaser for its own good)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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