Like most films, This Is Where I Leave You is merely a byproduct of its environment.
This Is Where I Leave You
Running time: 103 min.
Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda
Unfortunately, that hapless environment — where dysfunction has been repackaged into lurid entertainment (dubiously dubbed “reality television”) — has been created by us.
This is all to say that we are, at least in some small measure, partly responsible for the abhorrent, radioactive hazmat that is Shawn Levy’s latest film.
Adapting from Jonathan Trooper’s best-selling novel, the movie opens with a family in utter disarray after the death of their father.
Lucky of them, this passing of the patriarch forces the Altman family — Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), Paul (Corey Stoll), and their mother (Jane Fonda) — to sit shiva in their childhood home.
What follows are seven long and painful days in which this broken family must live under one roof.
Through haphazardly written dialogue, it’s revealed that each of the four children are fully-equipped with their fair share of problems.
Judd recently discovered that his boss has been sleeping with his wife for the past 12 months; Wendy is in a loveless marriage, still infatuated with Horry, her high school sweetheart (and next door neighbor) who suffered a brain injury before she left home.
Paul (Corey Stoll) can’t impregnate his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn), who used to date Judd; and Phillip (Adam Driver), the black sheep of the family, is trying to make a relationship with an older, more serious woman work.
To top off matters we have Hillary, their observant mother whose literary career is predicated on the dysfunction of her children.
For example, her autobiographical magnum opus recounts the phase in which Paul masturbated with an “oven mitt.” Which, yes, sounds about as uncomfortable as enduring this movie.
The mawkish entertainment proceeds with piano ballads and long, sappy monologues that end in characters saying things like, “anything happens all the time” and “no one is happy.”
Indeed, the latter statement is true: neither the characters nor the audience is particularly happy watching this train wreck. And how could we be?
Every moment in which This Is Where I Leave You shoots for sincerity is undercut by Levy’s cheap comic tendencies. How many times can characters recognize, refer, or mock the breast implants their buxom mother recently installed without drowning in repetition?
Sure, the inherent humor is there: A sexually charged older woman deciding to have a procedure generally reserved for the youth. However, these tiresome bits only illustrate that the film is as superficial as the boobs.
Artificial dramatics aside, the core issue with Shawn Levy’s movie is that it’s a hopelessly insular exercise in “Listen to these white people whine about their problems.”
The paucity of self-awareness in This Is Where I Leave rivals the very worst of Nicholas Sparks movies. That’s not to suggest infidelity, incompetence, and insecurity — all ingrained into the fabric of this movie — are not topics worthy of exploration. They are.
But the trick is to do so thoughtfully, with sensitivity to the subjects at hand. This is where Levy leaves us.