Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You has made the leap to the big screen and for starters, it’s a fantastic departure for director Shawn Levy. The man behind Real Steel and the Night at the Museum movies has terrific source material and an esteemed cast that has him creating something truly special beyond anything he has done prior.
The focus of the story is mostly on Jason Bateman’s Judd Altman, a man who believes he has it all. That is until he comes home and, as seen in the This Is Where I Leave You trailer, finds his wife in bed with his boss.
He mopes around for a while, and then gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) that his father has passed away. So he heads home to help his grieving mother (Jane Fonda) cope and it is there that he is joined by Wendy and brothers Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stroll).
Fonda’s Hillary has said that it was the Altman patriarch’s last wish that the family sit Shiva (Jewish tradition that the family sit for a week to mourn the recently deceased with friends and family dropping by to pay respects.). Yes, the Altmans are not Jewish. See, that is a perfect example of the drama meets comedy in Levy's film.
There are lots of laughs to be had, especially with this cast and with the script by the man who wrote the novel. He has mined the best of his book’s lighter moments and handed them to a gifted comedic cast who hits them out of the park. The more dramatic elements of the This Is Where I Leave You novel are slightly condensed and that is where the film suffers ever so slightly.
What works so well in this film is something that lesser films can't get right. Oftentimes, an ensemble suffers from the weight of its collective talents. A director can become obsessed with giving each star enough time and storyline to make everyone happy, while performing a disservice to their film as a whole. That is so not the case with This Is Where I Leave You. It is a fluid journey with each character given enough plot to truly chew on and deliver on the promise of their talents.
The supporting cast is stellar too. Connie Britton shines as the therapist/love interest of the much younger Driver and Kathryn Hahn continues her stellar run as Paul’s wife Alice. And in an underutilized role, Timothy Olyphant is the neighbor across the street whose past with Fey’s Wendy is quite the source of guilt on her part.
Overall though, this is the Bateman and Fey show and they shine. The former continues his hot streak that shows no signs (thankfully) of slowing. And Fey is given a terrific first post-30 Rock role that should be a nice launching pad for a long(er) career in film.
Yet, the highlight of the film is Driver. What he teased in Girls in terms of his gifts is illustrated in droves. He explores the entire emotional spectrum as the somewhat damaged, extremely immature soul with a huge heart.
And then there’s Fonda. Our This Is Where I Leave You review can report that the film’s matriarch needs more roles like this one where she can show the cornucopia that is her legendary power. It’s hard to imagine this film without her, and frankly, every single soul that inhabits this slice of life dramedy. We just wish it had a little more of the bite that was in the novel.