Romantic relationships are usually the center of attention when it comes to exploring them on the big screen. Will they or won’t they get together? Should they go out? So on and so forth. These romantic relationships are such a large focus of attention that other types of relationships, important ones to really overlook, are ignored or forgotten in the scheme of things. Siblings, parents, and friends, all important parts of our lives, are the focus in the star-studded This is Where I Leave You, a film that’s your typical story about the dysfunctional family and how they still help you get through the roughest parts of your life, with some very comedic moments on the side.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) works for an obnoxious radio host (Dax Shepard) and is excited to get home to his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) on her birthday, only to find out that she’s already given herself another present, in the form of another man. Judd’s devastated and things only get worse for him when his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to tell him their dad is dead. So, Judd goes back home to be with his mom (Jane Fonda), Wendy, and two brothers, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver).
Apparently an “atheist Jew”, their dad’s last wish is to have his family sit shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning period. So, they grudgingly do as his last wish commands, all under one roof for the first time in years. There are old flames involved (Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant), Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) desperately trying to have a baby, and basically everyone running amok trying to sort through everything that’s happening and miserably attempting to keep their shit together.
There’s a little bit and a lot going on in the film. There are a lot of characters, and a little bit of development for each of them. This is expected of a film with this many people, but at least the focus is on one character, that of Bateman’s down-and-out, but all around nice guy. Everything else just spins, but in an orbit around him. There are snippets here and there of other characters having their own moments, either for us to get to understand them better, or for them to understand each other better, but they usually happen around Bateman.
This film can be compared to any other film about dysfunctional families (and really, the word “dysfunctional” is thrown around too much, as though anyone’s family is perfect) being brought back together after a parent’s death or another event. There are a lot of these lurking around, but what is a bit more entertaining about this specific movie is that it’s actually funny. Beyond all the crazy, the yelling, and the typical sibling banter is actual, shake-your-shoulders laughter. The real scene-stealer being Adam Driver and his baby-of-the-family shirking of all responsibility, laced with a quick-witted delivery of all his lines.
The film is enjoyable at face value. And this is how it should be watched, at face value. It’s a film that is what it is and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. There isn’t too much drama, there isn’t too much comedy, and their aren’t too many over-the-top speeches even if some of the drama does feel a bit contrived. Disappointingly though, Tina Fey’s character is probably the most slighted in terms of back story, because she’s given one, but we only get a hint of it.
This is Where I Leave You isn’t an offensive movie. It’s chock-full of family issues from beginning to end, the siblings being the prime focus of the story, and that in itself is good enough to watch. It’s not wholly satisfying on every level, but is moderately enjoyable. Will everyone enjoy it? Maybe not. But the star-studded cast, the humor, and occasional heartfelt moment won’t make you feel like you’ve completely wasted your time. It’s exactly the kind of movie most will want to cozy up to on the couch while eating yesterday’s leftover dinner, its cast and slightly better-than-expected execution will at least keep you semi-entertained.