This Is Where I Leave You leaves no cliché unturned
‘This Is Where I Leave You’ strands some good actors in a sea of clichés, but the performances just may be enough to elevate it beyond a TV Movie of the Week.
Family dynamics are a crazy thing. Most families get along, or at least pretend to get along during holidays and special gatherings, and others just can’t be in the same room together without some unfortunate event taking place.
The Altman family, from the new comedy-drama This Is Where I Leave You, falls squarely into that second category. Oldest son Paul (Cory Stoll) feels like the “responsible” son who took control of the family business while his younger brothers fled their hometown. Middle son Judd (Jason Bateman) seems to have a successful career and marriage … on the surface, and youngest son Phillip (Adam Driver) is seen as the irresponsible one who is now dating a much older woman. Then there’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey) who seems more like a mother to them all than their actual mother.
And that mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), is an author who wrote a child-rearing book that was basically a tell-all of her own children’s lives which caused them no small amount of embarrassment. Now that their father has suddenly passed, Hillary tells the kids that their father’s last wish was that they all sit Shiva for him (even though he was an Atheist, and she’s not Jewish). Of course, close quarters reveal all of their deepest secrets.
It’s those secrets that drive the plot of This Is Where I Leave You, but unfortunately they become an unrealistic list of one thing after another plot contrivances. Judd’s wife has cheated on him, but she shows up unexpectedly with another surprise, Paul and his wife can’t get pregnant, Paul’s wife (Kathryn Hahn, who had a very different relationship with Bateman in Bad Words) is Judd’s ex, Phillip raises eyebrows with his girlfriend, Wendy’s husband is a jerk and she’s still in love with someone else from the neighborhood … it almost gets tiring keeping up with all the subplots.
On the plus side, most of the performances are just fine with a group of mostly comedic actors stretching their dramatic chops a bit. And Jane Fonda seems to be having fun playing a super sexy (grand)mother with a new, large set of breasts, unapologetically baring her ample cleavage to her uptight family. Timothy Olyphant is very under-used (wasted) as a brain damaged neighbor, as is Rose Byrne as Judd’s old flame, and a final act twist comes completely out of left field.
With that said, there are some funny moments and, refreshingly, the film does not tidy up everyone’s messy lives by the time the credits roll. Director Shawn Levy keeps all of the meandering plots moving smoothly, but the script is just too full of cliches to elevate the film above something you’d expect to see on the Lifetime Movie Channel.