With the likes of ‘August: Osage County’, ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’ and ‘The Judge’ and all hitting screens in 2014, it appears that this year is having some sort of dysfunctional family crisis. It’s no surprise then that new release ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ showcases yet another family in crisis. This endearing film takes place – as films of this sort usually do – after the death of a family member that forces various estranged members of a family back together.
On the request of their late father, the different grown up Altman siblings are forced to “sit Shiva” – the Jewish tradition of the deceased’s family staying at home and receiving visitors without distraction from their normal lives – in their childhood home with their various spouses and girlfriends, where secrets and grudges bubble to the surface.
Directed by one of Hollywood’s workmanlike directors Shawn Levy (‘Night at the Museum’ franchise, ‘Real Steel’, ‘Date Night’) and written by Jonathan Tropper based on his own novel, this may not be the type of film to leave any sort of hugely memorable mark on its audience, but there’s something charming and appealingly honest about the drama that it puts forth.
It’s a film about bringing together family members that have lost touch with one another, either as a result of drifting apart with their own lives and inevitable plethora of problems or stupid old grudges held for the sake of pride or vanity. It explores very familiar themes of sibling rivalry, familial responsibility, lineage and acting your age. Even if it’s a tad ‘been-there-done-that’ overall, it still feels like it comes from an honest and authentic place.
The clichés would turn to utter triteness if it weren’t for the amazing cast that’s been assembled. Jason Bateman leads as Judd, the straight-shooter of the family whose marriage troubles is our way into the story. Bateman is an underrated dramatic actor and he shows that side of his talent with one of the more complex performances of the film as well as bringing that inimitable charm that always makes him a pleasure to watch.
Tina Fey plays his sister Wendy, who’s increasingly distant marriage with her pre-occupied husband is weighing heavy on her. Corey Stoll is the brother having trouble conceiving a child with his wife, played by the wonderful Kathryn Hahn; rising star Adam Driver as the sort of rockstar renegade of the family who turns up to his father’s funeral blasting music in a sports car; and the incomparable Jane Fonda takes up the role of the family’s overbearing matriarch. Sometimes the drama veers off into iffy territory – one sub-plot involving a local ex-boyfriend of Wendy’s (played by Timothy Olyphant) who has suffered a brain injury is particularly problematic – but even then the very talented cast imbue the drama with a real sense of believability and likeability.
And that’s the key word here; believable. You completely buy into the idea that these are real siblings airing their issues simultaneously, confined in the family home in which the genesis of a lot of those problems probably occurred. Does the film set the world alight? Not particularly, but it showcases great performances and a smart, often viscerally forthright script permeated by a mix of dark and playful humour. It’s not as caustic as the aforementioned ‘August: Osage County’ nor as earnest as ‘The Judge’ but finds a happy medium between the two, providing a solidly enjoyable example of the well-worn dysfunctional family dramedy.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.