When their father passes away, four grown siblings 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.
“This is Where I Leave You” is a feel-good movie. With all of the turmoil and general pandemonium that frequents the Altman family, it makes you feel good that your family isn’t as chaotic as they are. Or maybe they are. At any rate, it’s a movie that thankfully never panders to the audience, rather, it reaches out and gradually pulls us in, allowing us to adapt to each family member and their surroundings as if we were right there beside them. Director Shawn Levy bestows upon each character, the necessary character development and exposition needed in order for us to genuinely care about them and eventually, understand them.
Judd (Jason Bateman) lives in New York City and works for Wade Beaufort (Dax Shepard), a radio shock jock whose ratings are solid gold. One day after leaving the office early to surprise his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) with a beautiful birthday cake, he finds her in bed with Wade and heartbroken, promptly leaves. Shortly thereafter, he receives a phone call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) informing him that their father just passed away. He quickly makes his way back to his childhood home where he meets up with Wendy and their two brothers, Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll), along with their families. The matriarch of the house and their mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) welcomes them all home and quickly gets down to business.
Their father’s dying request was that they all must live under the same roof for one week. It’s quite apparent early on that none of them are happy with this situation but because it was his final wish, they all agree but very quickly things spiral out of control. Wendy’s husband is constantly working and has no time for her and their son while Paul and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) are trying desperately to conceive as they want a family of their own and are on a strict daily schedule of sex. Phillip and his much older girlfriend Tracy (Connie Britton) can’t decide where their relationship and indeed, their lives are headed and to top it all off, Judd’s ex Quinn calls to notify him that she is pregnant with his child.
It sounds like an awful lot to discernibly cram into one movie but director Shawn Levy manages to effectively implement all of the crucial elements in order to make it work. As Judd tries to comprehend the loss of his wife and his father, he runs into Penny (Rose Byrne), an old friend whom he always liked and Wendy reconnects, albeit briefly, with her old ex Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who lives right across the road from her mother’s house. A movie of this caliber, with so many characters and intertwining sub-plots, runs the risk of confusing and inevitably losing its audience because of these very factors but thankfully, Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the screenplay and also the book that the movie is based on, does a commendable job in fleshing out each character and their corresponding story.
Jason Bateman for me, has always played himself in each of his movies. He never seems to or indeed wants to stretch himself as an actor, always playing it safe but here, he gives a very restrained and reticent performance which actually works for him and near the end of the movie, he shares an emotional scene with his mother that let me see just how good he really can be. The rest of the cast do excellent with their respective roles and while there are some laugh out loud moments, the movie always manages to stay grounded and never veers into excessive slapstick or schmaltz, something movies of this ilk normally tend to do. By the time the movie is over and the credits have rolled, you sit back and begin to think about your own family and how lucky you are that they’re not as flawed as the Altmans. Or maybe they are.
Own “This is Where I Leave You” on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD on December 16th.