This Is Where I Leave You strings audiences along with expected amounts of dysfunction, comedy and warming bits of heart, but there’s one constant that Shawn Levy’s adaptation continually reminds us – potty humor never gets old. Wait, let me rephrase that by saying “potty-TRAINING-humor never gets old,” as amidst all the sibling bickering and mid-life crisis talk, we can always count on a prolific little toddler to whip out his big-boy toilet and take the Cleveland Browns to the game. Yes, considering a cast that includes Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, and Rose Byrne, I’m saying the funniest moments involve the innocence of childhood, because in all his defecating glory, little Cade Lappin’s delightful lifestyle is envied by the mature adults surrounding him, jealous of his uninterrupted freedom. But even with these mood-breaking moments, This Is Where I Leave You is just another generic movie about life’s unpredictable craziness, played out in the most predictable of manners.
After the death of their father, four siblings find themselves participating in a shiva to honor their deceased parent’s final wish. Essentially living with their mother under house arrest, Judd (Bateman), Wendy (Fey), Phillip (Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll) find themselves locked up with a host of problems both past and present. What should be a period of reflection turns into a fight against spouses, repressed emotions, and a slew of possible “could-have-beens” that haunt each family member like a dark plague – until the healing powers of family bonding start working their magic. If the Altman family can survive each other, each sibling might emerge with a new disposition on life.
Shawn Levy’s latest is perfectly passable yet entirely expected, never really striving for anything beyond ensemble-cast-laughs, a few weightier notes, and a reused formula that typically spells box-office success, and in that sense, Levy achieves every goal. This Is Where I Leave You never oozes realism or suspense, but effortlessly glides along thanks to a cast who gel together in a Hollywood-family type of way where no one actually appears related, yet there’s a certain showy chemistry worth ample chuckles and a few knee-slaps. Nothing lingers, nothing last, but it’s an easy ride while we’re strapped in, and sometimes that’s all we can ask for at the movies. Sure, we might WANT more, but that’s just being greedy!
The story mainly focuses on Jason Bateman’s life, spiralling out of control in a “having the worst year in history” fashion. After catching his wife cheating on him with his bro-tacular boss (played by Dax Shepard), Judd learns his father has passed, which leads to the shiva – and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Bateman takes his lumps, and gives audiences a focal point to follow, but with all the hardships piled on-top of Judd’s existence, suffocating the poor man, his revelations become a little-too-chipper for comfort. Judd’s path to enlightenment is obvious, and while each family member deals with more streamlined problems, it becomes harder and harder to stomach such a craptastic life – but what else do you expect from overly-scripted dramatics?
Looking at the rest of the cast, I couldn’t be happier with Adam Driver’s increasing mainstream workload. Fey and Stoll are veterans, and each bring a sterner stature to the table, but Driver’s man-child addition presents the most supporting comedy, be it a tragic hilarity. Yet there are sweet moments between all the Altmans, fondly recalling a cannabis-influenced love-fest as Judd, Paul and Phillip sneak out of temple after finding some special goodies in their father’s coat. It’s a warming moment where walls are broken down and emotions are shared openly, spiced up with some expected stoner-comedy, but the secret smokeout represents one of the rawer, more charming moments found in Levy’s novel adaptation. When on-point, This Is Where I Leave You tickles the heartstrings and musters strength – if only such sincere displays of emotion could appear more consistently.
But, in retrospect, Levy brings together a group of talented actors and makes us feel just a little bit better about our own kooky families, hitting on the absolute insanity that we call life. Nothing is out of bounds considering dramatic conflicts, as each family member has their own dilemma. Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) can’t conceive, Philip refuses to grow up, Wendy is married to an “asshole” who will never be her true love, and Judd, well, Judd’s life is in absolute shambles. No matter how hard we strive for the American dream, or a comfortable, cozy lifestyle, there will always be unforeseen obstacles ready to shake foundations, and This Is Where I Leave You takes solace in displaying a “Worst Case Scenario” of sorts. Again, does it become over-the-top? In the most non-Stallone of ways, yes, absolutely – but there’s also enough charming comedy to guide audiences through to a safely reconciled ending.
In a matter of words, life is a certifiable shitshow none of us will ever be prepared for. I don’t care if you’re a hardcore survivalist, validated psychiatrist or a self-proclaimed wizard – no one holds all the answers, and no one can predict what’s waiting for us around every corner. Isn’t that a little bit of the fun, though? As Jane Fonda’s character keeps repeating, it’s alright to cry or laugh when faced with tragedy, because there’s no single “right” emotional reaction, and her message keeps echoing as we learn more about the Altman’s horror stories. Giving into a life of empty Chinese food containers and unkept facial hair (I suppose the female equivalent is empty pints of ice cream and unshaven legs) is the easiest route to take, crying alone, or we can laugh it off through the tears, ready to embrace the chaos and see what life has in store for us next. While I might be waxing more poetic on a level that This Is Where I Leave You never achieves, Levy’s film is a light-hearted reminder that family will always be there in the darkest of times, and that keeping your chin up is the only way to go. Hell, where else is there to go once you hit rock bottom anyway?
Hardly prolific yet easily digested, This Is Where I Leave You drops us exactly where expected.