For local color, “This is Where I Leave You” is it.
By Noah Gitell
For local color, “This is Where I Leave You” is it. The film, which tells of four grown siblings who come together after the death of their father, was not only shot in part on the streets of Rye, but also stars Jason Bateman, who was born and grew up here. Still, the filmmakers are shooting for a slightly wider demographic. As far as subject matter, anybody who has a family should relate.
Bateman plays Judd Altman, a middling New York City radio programmer whose life is upended by two events in the film’s first ten minutes: the discovery that his wife is having an affair with his boss (a dudebro shock jock played effectively by Dax Shepard), and the death of his father. He returns from the city to his home in the fictional Elmsbrook, New York, to spend a week at home with his three siblings Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll), and Philip (Adam Driver), and mother (Jane Fonda), as the Judaic tradition of shiva requires. Along for the ride are the significant others: Philip’s older girlfriend/therapist (Connie Britton), Paul’s baby-crazy wife (Kathryn Hahn), and Wendy’s distant stockbroker husband (Aaron Lazar). None of the family members is particularly devout, but they abide by their father’s last wish and sit Shiva. As community members come to visit and mourn with them, their familial bonds are stretched thin and old rivalries are renewed.
It’s a large, formidable cast, and perhaps too much so. There are enough storylines to fit into a network television series (it’s easy to draw some parallels to, say, “Modern Family” or “Parenthood”), but with such great actors in the mix, the film leaves you wanting more from all of them. Bateman and Fey make convincing siblings and play off each other nicely – in both comedy and one poignant dramatic scene – but they probably deserve their own movies. Veteran character actors like Hahn and Stoll barely register. Driver probably makes the strongest singular impression as the immature, attention-seeking fourth child. In his work on HBO’s “Girls” and his few film appearances, he is building a reputation as an actor who can steal scenes with little effort.
He and the other siblings get to sink their teeth into some zippy dialogue, and what separates “This is Where I Leave You” from other family reunion movies is that it is decidedly made for adults. There is plenty of cursing – Bateman in particular gets to indulge in his profane side – and lots of sex talk, from the mother’s recent mammary enlargement procedure to Judd’s fling with an old girlfriend (Rose Byrne) to a third act revelation that I won’t spoil here. In staying true to Jonathan Topper’s adult-oriented best-selling novel on which the film was based, Hollywood’s usual obsession with appealing to the widest possible audience seems to have been thrown asunder, and the film is better for it.
The first half is an acid-tinged, obscenity-laden delight, which makes it all the more disappointing when it devolves into melodrama and the kind of “learning” moments that typically wrap up a sitcom episode. Bateman can sell these moments with a hint of irony; he jump-started this second phase of his career doing it on TV’s “Arrested Development. But by the time the credits come up, it is disappointing to see that every single character has learned something about themselves and each other. Given the dearth of screen time each of these characters received, none of these transitions feel earned.
In the end, “This is Where I Leave You” is worth it for the laughs, but since it fails to maintain its risk-taking pace through the film, you’ll wish you left it earlier.
My Rating: Put it on your queue