is but one member of the dysfunctional clan at the center of the
ultimately disappointing “This Is Where I Leave You” who comes anywhere
close to being content in life. That would be the potty-training tyke
who likes to tote his portable throne outdoors and tend to business
while enjoying the Westchester County views. His Zen approach to
pooping trumps anyone else’s neurotic whining.
might also be the reason that “sh—” is “Night at the Museum” franchise
director Shawn Levy’s preferred curse word in his first R-rated comedy.
Also possible: The kid is the most mature person on screen
it is gripe, gripe, gripe and snipe, snipe, snipe, all served family
style with a bare minimum of relatability. True, the pleasing presence
of comic pros Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, along with It dude of the
moment Adam Driver and “House of Card’s” Corey Stoll as a quartet of
disgruntled siblings, goes a long way to mask the failings of a script
that doesn’t quite do justice to the novel on which it’s based.
providing some welcome distraction is the presence of Jane Fonda, more
radiant than ever at 76, who is much more at ease with humor now than in her early ‘60s “Barefoot in the Park”
starlet days. She is quite amusing as a Mom-zilla, who demands that her
children reunite and sit Shiva for seven days following their
not-very-religious Jewish father’s death. “You’re all grounded,” she
tells her scowling offspring about the ritual that their patriarch
supposedly wanted to be observed.
Hillary, a child therapist and rampant over-sharer (she
extolls her late husband’s sexual prowess to any and all within
earshot), is known for her infamous parenting guide, “Cradle and All,”
that still has her brood seething over the intimate family secrets she
tattled to the world. Meanwhile, Fey’s Wendy, an unhappy homemaker and
mom of two (including the aforementioned pooper) with a work-obsessed
husband, counters her mother’s insistence on keeping tradition with this observation: “Mom, you're sitting in the exact same spot we put our Christmas tree.”
Fonda maintains her dignity even if her character’s recent boob job
becomes the object of mockery one (or two or three) too many times. Other actors aren’t so lucky.
gets one big issue to obsess over, although Bateman–whose Judd was
the novel’s narrator–gets a few bonus ones along with being physically knocked
to the ground at least three times. His perfectionist Manhattan radio
producer has been in a funk ever since discovering that his wife would
rather celebrate her birthday by having sex with his boss, a sexist-pig
shock jock (Dax Shepard), than blow out the candles on her custom-made
cake. No job, no spouse, no home–in one fell swoop. And, as bad timing
would have it, no dad, either.
anyone comes close to making “This Is Where I Leave You” tolerable, it
is Bateman. But he has been the best thing about a so-so movie far too
often at this point in his career. And the sudden shift into more
serious matters latter in the movie are beyond even his talents to pull
for the rest of the cast, Stoll is resentful eldest brother, Paul, who
stayed close to home and ran a sporting-goods business with their
father. He and wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) are desperate to have a baby,
despite possible infertility problems, and attempt to make one every
chance they get. That Annie used to be Judd’s squeeze adds an extra
layer to Paul’s anger.
is always a black sheep in these types of films and Driver fills that
role as well as he can as youngest child Phillip, a feckless playboy
with a hot car and a hotter older woman on his arm (Connie Britton of
TV’s "Nashville," who is a successful therapist just like Hillary, which
suggests some Oedipal themes are afoot).
there are laugh-out-loud one-liners delivered with relish by this crew
but they sound as if a writer and not a real person would actually say
them. Conflicts grow all the more complicated–and increasingly less
interesting–once Judd’s estranged wife and his ex-boss join in the
so-called fun. As old grudges are aired and former flames materialize,
you can practically predict where it is all heading. That is, save for one doozy of a reveal at the end.
that author Jonathan Tropper did the film adaptation of his
best-seller, he has no one to blame but himself. For some reason, the
surname of this fractious tribe has been changed from Foxman to Altman–perhaps as an allusion to the cinematic master of such extended
ensemble pieces. If so, “This Is Where I Leave You” is what probably
would have resulted if Robert Altman ever had the urge to make a TV
sitcom after losing his sense of nuance. One that would have been
canceled after one season.
is such a long tradition in these sorts of family-gathering vehicles,
ranging from 1938’s “You Can’t Take It With You,” which won the best
picture Oscar, to last year’s “August: Osage County,” that it
is one of the more difficult genres to pull off. Good for Levy for
trying something different. But next time he does an adult-aimed movie,
he should also try a little harder.