Tuesday, September 09, 2014

“This Is Where I Leave You”– Movie Review



This week, the bonus screenings for the Fall Semester of my movie class began with the comedy-drama, “This Is Where I Leave You”, starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.


When the patriarch of a large family dies, his children rush to the side of his widow to mourn and bury him – but after they learn that they are being forced to stay together for an entire week, can they all remain civil to each other for that long?


Just as life appears to be going well for Judd (Bateman), he suddenly finds himself in the midst of several personal crises:  First, he loses his wife when he discovers she’s been cheating on him; second, he loses his job when it turns out that his wife has been cheating on him with his boss; lastly, when he gets a telephone call from his sister Wendy (Fey), he learns that they’ve lost their father, who has finally passed away after a long illness.  Judd then heads back to his family home to help his siblings and their mother Hillary (Fonda) with the funeral. 

Afterwards, Hillary announces to her adult offspring that their father’s dying wish was that they all sit shiva – a ceremony typical of Jewish families where everyone gathers for a week to mourn the loss of the deceased.  Upset that they have to put their life on hold for the next seven days, Hillary convinces her brood to stay out of respect to their late father.  Soon thereafter, everyone’s patience is tested as they are all forced to live together under the same roof – the first time they have ever had to do that as adults.  It becomes immediately apparent that their lives and relationships are broken and dysfunctional in various ways. 

Judd quickly discovers that he is not the only one of his siblings experiencing personal problems; Wendy’s marriage may be in its last stages as her husband grows increasingly distant as he becomes more focused on his professional life.  Feeling alone, she rekindles a relationship with her ex-boyfriend, a neighborhood man who suffered a debilitating accident when they were together.  Judd, meanwhile, runs into Penny (Rose Byrne), an old acquaintance who still lives in the same town where they both were raised.  Learning of Judd’s marital woes, she quickly moves in to try for a second chance at romance with him.  But when Judd’s wife mysteriously returns with a surprise of her own, will this cause him to reconcile or will he continue to pursue a relationship with Penny?


“This Is Where I Leave You” is probably being categorized as a comedy-drama by the process of elimination:  it’s not funny enough to be a comedy and it’s not serious enough to be a drama.  Although some of the jokes are mildly amusing, most are hackneyed and as a result, fall completely flat; on the other hand, if you’re not terribly demanding as far as your comedic needs are concerned, it’s entirely possible that you’ll find this movie satisfying, as it appeared to be for most of those in attendance.  For me, however, this was ultimately just a waste of what was otherwise a perfect cast of actors. 

One of the problems I had with “This Is Where I Leave You” – and it’s a big one – has to do with its screenplay; specifically, the awkward, thoughtless way in which the exposition was written.  A pet peeve of mine is when one character tells another something that both of them already know all too well, especially when it is clearly done in such a way as to supply the audience with information about one of the characters.  This is a major problem in the movie which the screenwriter never seems able to overcome; each attempt is ham-handed in its execution, effectively being as subtle as a blow to the head with a sledgehammer. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed Jonathan Tropper, who wrote not only the movie’s screenplay, but also the novel on which the film is based.  Tropper said that the book came about in an odd way – he has previously published several successful books which have been optioned by Hollywood to be adapted into a motion picture.  His intention with the novel version of “This Is Where I Leave You” was to write a book that most major motion picture studios would be averse to optioning; he did this by having most of the action remain internal to his protagonist, the narrator.  Despite Tropper’s best efforts, however, an option was nevertheless purchased on the novel and he was then hired to adapt its screenplay as well. 


This Is Where I Leave You (2014) on IMDb


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