Boasting an Impressive Cast, ‘This is Where I Leave You’ is Lightly Likable

GameStop, Inc.

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It has been said that casting is 90% of directing. Using that metric, Shawn Levy had most of his work done by the time he finally started shooting This is Where I Leave You, and it’s safe to say he just let that other 10% float away with a light breeze. For all intents and purposes, this film isn’t made for me. Though the material is a sappy and sentimental tale of upper class white people, the excellent cast elevates this work into the realm of the lightly likable.

Shortly after his idyllic life crumbles after finding his wife, Quinn (Abagail Spencer), in bed with his boss, Wade (Dax Shepard), Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) learns of his father’s passing. Even though he was an atheist, his mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), informs the family that his father’s last request was that they sit in shiva, a Jewish ritual of mourning that lasts 7 days. The family returns home from their separate lives. There’s Wendy (Tina Fey), who’s married to a workaholic businessman with a couple children; Paul (Corey Stoll), the one who stayed in the home town, who’s married to Judd’s long ago ex-girlfriend, Alice (Katheryn Hahn), and are desperately trying to have a child of their own; and Phillip (Adam Driver), the youngest of the bunch, a perpetual screw-up, who brings his new fiancé with him, Tracy (Connie Britton), his therapist. Old feuds and romances flow like the booze they self-medicate with. Judd runs into a friend from the past, Penny, who now teaches ice skating while Wendy reminisces about a long-lost romance with a neighbor, Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who suffered massive head trauma years prior.

The excellent cast does their best to keep the material afloat. Bateman plays his signature role, the sarcastic, exasperated straight man, while Fey plays a more subdued version of her typical onscreen persona. Stoll and Driver illustrate why it seems that every casting director in Hollywood is trying to cast them. The biggest disappointment in the film is Rose Byrne. Not because she’s bad in the film, but rather because she appears, lights up the film, and then is woefully underwritten for most of the film’s running time. Had she been given deeper material to work with, Byrne could’ve been the MVP of the film, much like she was with the summer’s Neighbors. Fonda is passable as the matriarch of the Altman family, though the repeated jokes about her boob job get old real fast.

There are glimmers of familial truth in the film, though they’re usually counteracted with an unhealthy dose of melodrama. This is the kind of movie where a benign question like, “How are you?” leads to deep, ponderous conversations that facilitate massive personal understanding and introspection – you know, bullshit. Luckily, the film counteracts its sentimentality with plenty of raunchy, adult humor performed nearly impeccably by its excellent, expansive cast.

This is Where I Leave You continues the trend of comedies focused upon the upper class, and in this particular case an exclusively white upper class. If they’re not driving nice cars, they’re using hired car services with their black town cars with tinted windows. Though the cast is excellent, there are white paper plates with more color.

While I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend This is Where I Leave You to people with similar tastes to mine, I would recommend it to an older crowd, preferably upper class white people. Even with its flawed sap and sentimentality and the boilerplate direction of Levy, the cast keeps the film afloat. On paper, this is the kind of movie I’d totally hate, and amazingly I didn’t. Truly an impressive feat.

 

 

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