During any life change, we tend to learn a lot about ourselves. When we are having issues, we gain focus on little things we’ve overlooked for a long time. Our short comings, our barriers, our greatest strengths. What we choose to do at that moment is what can help us grow and move forward, or sink deeper into a routine. In THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, Jason Bateman and crew give us plenty of life changes to their characters, and we get to see where they go from there, both in ways that are hilariously horrendous and heartwarming and charming.
Bateman plays Judd Altman, radio producer that just found out that his wife has been cheating on him with the star of the sports program he produces. While dealing with this blow, both on the marital front as well as that of his career, he gets a call from his sister stating that his father has just passed on. After battling illness for a long time, the patriarch of the family has moved on, with the dying wish that the family participate in the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. Shiva is seven day long period of mourning, where the direct family members of the deceased gather at a single residence, usually that of the deceased. Visitors are encouraged to come, support the mourners, pay their respects to the departed, and usually bring food for the family. Being as this is the first time in a while that the Altman clan has been all together, it makes for an interesting seven days.
With a large ensemble cast, this film could have been horrendous, or played off well. Thankfully, it was the latter, as the majority of the cast did a great job. And while the cast family didn’t exactly resemble each other, nor were all of them Jewish, it worked for the most part as they all had chemistry together. Because of that chemistry, I was able to buy into them being a family, more than just looks or ethnicity.
As the primary lead, Bateman did a great job as Judd, the middle son, constantly striving for perfection, and not being pleased with how his life has left him, not so much for his own predicament, but for how he feels he’s let down his parents. His relationship with his father was a distant yet supportive one, as his father didn’t handle intimacy well. Having had a similar relationship with my own father, I related a lot to Judd’s character. I was told by my dad how proud he was of me, how I was doing as a man and a father, but I still missed out on a lot of time together in the later years of his life due to distance. When Judd finally remembers a truly happy moment between him and his father, it deeply affected me, causing me to openly cry.
Tina Fey played Wendy, Judd’s sister and closest confidante. Her coming back to town for the shiva is difficult, due to her husband being in the middle of a huge work deal, her son potty training, and reuniting with her first true love that happens to live next door to her mom, played by Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant’s character is an interesting one, as he had a bad car accident, causing significant head trauma, leaving scarring and also affecting his memory. This caused him to become short tempered as he was able to function, but would forget things easily, sometimes in the middle of doing something important. He quietly goes about his day, while Wendy sees the man she loved quietly in torment.
The baby of the family, Phillip, was played masterfully by Adam Driver (GIRLS, the forthcoming STAR WARS VII). Phillip is a philanderer, irresponsible in almost all of his ways, as he’s always been given enough slack to hang himself with. He brings along his new fiance, Tracey (Connie Britton, NASHVILLE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY), a much older woman that is a therapist, same career as the Altman’s mother’s. Oedipal issues aside, Phillip does his best to try to wedge his way back into the family, endearing himself to Judd and Wendy, while tormenting the family’s rabbi, aka childhood tormentee nicknamed Boner (Ben Schwartz, PARKS & REC, HOUSE OF LIES).
The cast is tied together by the matriarch, Hillary, played majestically by Jane Fonda. As a star author/psychologist, Hillary loved her children dearly, but thought nothing of using them in her best selling books, no matter how embarrassing the tales she told. She was overly open, hilariously telling visitors about her first time of having sex with the dearly departed, also while flaunting her new found cleavage thanks to a recent breast augmentation. Fonda does a great job of utilizing both the humor, the sexiness, and oddly enough, the motherly nature to really fill out the character, making her a convincing mother to this brood.
One surprise out of the whole film was Rose Byrne, a local girl that had held a crush on Judd. Byrne was quirky, lovable, and was an upbeat character to add into Judd’s overly downbeat story. While I was surprised by the character, I’m not surprised by how well she was portrayed by Byrne. Lately, she has done stellar work in everything she’s done, from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS to INSIDIOUS to last year’s blockbuster comedy, NEIGHBORS.
With so much going on in this story, and with such a large cast, it would be hard not to find at least a few things to truly enjoy in this movie. And overall, I enjoyed it thoroughly, even though I did weep a little towards the end. Being emotionally affected by a comedy, where I’m not just laughing is a definite bonus.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU can be seen in theaters, and streaming on most VOD carriers.