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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Superb on-screen chemistry fuels dark comedy ‘This is Where I Leave You’

"This is Where I Leave You"

Directed by Shawn Levy

Within the first five minutes, Judd Altman’s (Jason Bateman) life goes from the perfect vision of everything he’d planned for himself to the exact opposite. He begins with a well-paying job on a widely recognized radio show with the perfect apartment and the perfect wife, to no job, sleeping on the couch of an unnamed friend, anticipating a divorce and dealing with the death of his father.

“This Is Where I Leave You” gets straight to the point in terms of plot, immediately setting the stage for the rest of the story’s events to unfold. It’s the same typical comedy-to-cover-tragedy approach that people would expect for a dramatic comedy, but the all-star cast makes the film one worth seeing.

Judd’s dysfunctional family comes together to pay their respects to their father when their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), informs them that his dying wish was for them to hold a shiva in his honor, requiring them to sit in mourning for seven days. Paul (Corey Stoll), Wendy (Tina Fey), Judd and Phillip (Adam Driver) bicker and purposefully push each other’s buttons but decide to stay and grieve their father’s death together.

Throughout the film, seemingly effortless banter flows among the four siblings. This makes it easy to believe they are a real family with relatable issues, ultimately making the audience more comfortable with the characters and plotline. Wendy and Judd are clearly more comfortable speaking to each other about their personal issues than any of the other Altman children. From the beginning, Judd and Wendy are the only two that know all of the others’ secrets. On the other hand, Paul and Phillip hash out their problems with each other in regard to the family business that their father has left behind for them to take care of. Most of the in-depth understanding of each character comes mainly from Wendy, making their willingness to communicate with one another more important to the film by placing an emphasis on someone other than Judd. Relying solely on dialogue, actor chemistry and general believability rather than a mix of those and plot creativity to connect with the audience is a definite risk, but “This Is Where I Leave You” establishes that connection well.

While the cast does a great job of providing a feeling of reality to the film, it still falls short in two major areas. The first being the sense of mourning. Aside from the few moments that are specifically dedicated to the memories of the father, most of the points that could have been extended emotionally are cut short by comedic undertones. While the comedy aspect is one that was widely advertised for the film and expected to be a part of the overall tone, there were some instances in which there could have been more emphasis on how each member was feeling in regard to the death of a close family member, making much of the film more about the family dynamic than about how each of them handles the tragedy. This leaves room for the audience to forget about the death momentarily, even though it was meant to be a major factor in the characters’ lives.

Secondly, the subplots in the film seem to be rushed and not completely developed. Wendy is reminded of a love interest from her 20s, Hillary reinvents herself after the death of her husband and Paul and Phillip experience problems in their love lives, but none of their personal stories are completely finished. There is a sense of temporary closure for each of their lives by the end of the film, but don’t expect everything to be resolved. This may have been intentional to add to the believable tone being carried out, however, it feels like the story was cut off in the middle and the audience members have to finish it for themselves.

Even with its faults, “This Is Where I Leave You” remains a great testament to the possibilities of change in life, love and family in adulthood through Bateman’s spectacular performance as a man who’s forced to remodel himself after years of hard work. He, alongside the rest of the cast, keeps the audience engaged through laughter and smiles, the film may leave viewers with a heartwarming feeling and a deeper appreciation for family.