Entertainment » Reviews

This Is Where I Leave You

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Sep 19, 2014
Tina Fey and Jason Bateman star in 'This Is Where I Leave You'
Tina Fey and Jason Bateman star in 'This Is Where I Leave You'  (Source:Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take your standard family comedy, toss it into a bag of sifted "Big Chill," give it a good shake, and you'll have something along the lines of "This Is Where I Leave You," a film stuffed with marquee names and brimming with tasteless sexual innuendo. Fortunately, there's plenty of saccharine melodrama to lend the movie some factory-fresh flavor.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) works as an assistant to a trash-talking radio schlock jock named Wade Beaufort (Dax Shepard). Wade's show is called "Man Up," and it's about as puerile as you'd expect -- as puerile as Bateman's earlier comedy from this year, "Bad Words," but lucky for us the film doesn't linger in the studio or around Wade. Rather, it wings off, in diagrammatic fashion, and following a pair of catastrophes: The breakup of Judd's marriage to Quinn (Abigail Spencer) and the death of Judd's father.

Called home by the funeral, and kept there as much by the demands of his mother Hilary (Jane Fonda), a successful novelist, Judd is perfectly poised to dig in and lick his wounds for a while. In fact, as fate (and the plot) would have it, he's got a whole week to hang and chill with his mother and his siblings; it seems that it was his father's wish that the whole family should sit shiva for him.

Judd's family is the sort of motley collection Hollywood seems to think endearing, or maybe even relatable: A clutch of drunks, blowhards, and people generally let down by life's disappointments. (Is your family like this? Neither is mine.) There are three brothers -- Judd, Paul (Corey Stoll, thankfully bereft of the fright wig he wears as the star of TV's "The Strain"), and Phillip (Adam Driver); they fight a lot -- and one sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), who seems to have absorbed some of the household's testosterone in her formative years. (She's unhappy with her workaholic husband Barry (Aaron Lazar) and makes sure he and everybody else knows all about it.)

In place of character, which entails credible psychological definition, these individuals are bestowed color by novelist-turned-screenwriter Jonathan Tropper, who adapts his own book for the film. This means that everyone is enhanced with outrageous, audacious dysfunctions. Paul has a hot temper; his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) used to be Judd's girlfriend; this is awkward enough, but Alice is wracked by a desperate need for motherhood and Paul's not filling the bill. (Anyone see where this is headed?)

Mom, meantime, is the sort of sexually liberated child of the '60s that the '60s only wishes had really existed. As a writer, she's evidently hot stuff; as a mother, she's perpetually traumatizing, having written her children's sexual misadventures into a seminal (ahem) novel. She's also just gotten a boob job despite her advanced years.

Youngest son Philip is clueless and cocky, but he's trying to grow up under the auspices of his former therapist/current girlfriend Tracy (Connie Britton), a much older woman who would know better -- who, in fact, knows that she should know better, but she (like the rest of these half-deranged people) is a creation victimized by ramshackle writing.

The movie's episodic narrative is equally half-baked, a trawl through adventures that tax patience and credibility alike: Reckless driving with one sexy car, and a jubilant act of revenge carried out on another... smoking up in a synagogue... a sexual tryst broadcast to all and sundry via a baby monitor. Gripping stuff, as are the moments of ersatz tender-tough moments between Judd and Wendy. They each have old flames still living in the old hometown (Timothy Olyphant for her; Rose Byrne for him), so of all the siblings they, perhaps, understand one another best of all.

But this is a film looking to cover all bases. No sooner has a moment of almost genuine contact between two characters appeared than it's canceled out by the next scatological joke or mortifying sexual mishap. (At least, they'd be mortifying to anyone half normal.) There's even a (highly contrived) semi-visitation from the dear departed. But is it a benediction? A hallucination? A fever dream? It hardly matters. This movie runs you down, pummels you with a parade of absurdities and grotesqueries, and then flees town. In a month, no one will remember it, which is probably a good thing for the careers of all concerned.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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