THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
Review by Gordon Justesen
Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Jane
Director: Shawn Levy
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2014
“I don't understand the Shiva. Mom's not even Jewish, and dad was an atheist.”
“A Jewish atheist, and this is what he wanted.”
There is plenty to appreciate in This is Where I Leave You, and some of the time what you seen unfold before you really works. However, there are a number of instances that feel quite unnecessary and from another film entirely. It adds up to a pure close call in terms of recommending it.
For director Shawn Levy, this is something of a departure. Levy has mostly been known for making mainstream comedies, most notably the Night at the Museum series and Date Night. By indication of this film, Levy is indeed capable of helming a comedy of a much more serious tone.
Based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper, who also wrote the screenplay and is a co-creator of one of my current favorite shows on TV, Banshee, the story begins with radio show producer Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) getting a nasty surprise when he walks in on his wife having sex with none other than his boss. This devastating news is followed by another blow to the gut in the form of the news of his father’s death. In addition to dealing with the inevitable pain of loss, Judd will also have to deal with the pain of being reunited with his family, back under one roof for the first time in years.
It turns out that the father’s final request is that the Altman clan sit Shiva for one week. This means they will have no choice but to put up with each other in the same house for seven days whether they like it or not. And if you guessed that many sit-com style bits of family bickering will ensue, well then you guessed right.
Among Judd’s siblings, there’s Wendy (Tina Fey), who’s having communication problems with her workaholic husband. There’s older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), the current head of the family sporting goods store who’s being pressured by his wife (Kathryn Hahn) to impregnate her. And there’s Philip (Adam Driver), a womanizing slacker whose latest catch is that of a cougar (fitfully played by the ageless beauty that is Connie Britton).
That brings us to the mother, Hilary (perfectly played by Jane Fonda). Never one to shy away from revealing deep intimate details of her and her late husbands lovemaking, she frequents in embarrassing her children. She’s also not shy when it comes to flaunting a recent surgically enhanced area.
The movie also throws in a predictable romance rebound for Judd in the form of Penny (Rose Byrne), a former high school sweetheart. Although the movie does an interesting bit by revealing Judd’s cheating wife is pregnant, and possibly with his child, it’s all too clear right from this subplot’s intro how things will end up. One other subplot that ends up going nowhere is Wendy rekindling feelings for a former flame (Timothy Olyphant) who suffered a brain injury years ago.
Without question, the strongest ingredient in the movie is the chemistry between Bateman and Fey. Rarely in a movie have I seen a brother and sister relationship that was this authentic and real. Their scenes together are so incredibly rich, that I wish the movie were mainly about them.
All in all, This is Where I Leave You is an occasionally spirited dramedy. And those winning bits it showcases every so often make you wish the whole movie was better, especially when the worn out sit com-like shenanigans and crude humor overshadow the richness. A cast like this deserves way better.
This Blu-ray from Warner is a terrifically handled, superbly detailed presentation. It’s a plain enough looking film, but in terms of pristine image detail and color appearance, it’s astounding every step of the way. Light and darker sequences both fare terrifically well.
The DTS HD mix serves this dialogue oriented piece tremendously well. What you mostly get is dialogue delivery and frequent music playback, and the balance between them is handled in top form. Those are mainly the key highlights, which is what one should expect for a film like this.
Not a bad lineup of extras on this Warner release, starting with a commentary with director Shawn Levy and screenwriter/author Jonathan Tropper. Also featured are a series of featurettes, including “The Narrative Voice”, which covers all aspects of adapting the novel. Four additional featurettes make up “Points of Departure”, including “The Brother - Sister Bond”, “The Matriarch”, “Sibling Rivals”, and “Choreographed Chaos”. Then there’s one concluding featurette titled “The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner”, which delves into how this rabbi played by comic actor Ben Schwartz was inspired. Rounding out the extras are six deleted scenes.
This combo pack release also comes with a bonus DVD copy and a Digital HD streaming code.
The entire cast and a periodic bright shining moment really come close to make me recommend This is Where I Leave You. If it wasn’t for the forced moments of sit-com like behavior and poop jokes, which feel like they were added in for good measure, I would indeed be suggesting you give it a try. At the same time, you could do much worse.