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October 25, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


What could be worse than coming home to find your wife having sex in your bed with your boss? Probably losing your cool radio producer job right after it and then, to top it all off, the sudden death of your father and a trip back home to your Jewish family, having to pretend it’s all good in your life and make up an excuse for your wife being MIA.

This is exactly what happens to Judd Altman (Jason Reitman) at the beginning of This Is Where I Leave You, a wonderful ensemble family comedy like they don’t make ‘em anymore. His unplanned visit back to the nest isn’t the kind he’d imagined or let alone planned. Judd, in fact, is a man who likes to play it safe and doesn’t do complicated, yet he has to learn that rarely in life things go as planned and he definitely learns it the harsh way.

Judd is undoubtedly the emotional core of the film and Jason Bateman probably offers a career-best performance in this role, infusing the character with understated self-deprecating humour and vulnerability. But he’s definitely in great company with the wonderful Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver portraying his equally messed up siblings Wendy, Paul and Phillip. And let’s not forget the legendary Jane Fonda playing their mother Hilary, the matriarch of the Altman family, a successful psychologist and best selling author with a boob job and an unfiltered mouth.

Hilary manages to keep her rarely reunited offspring under her roof for a week due to following the Jewish ritual of seven days of mourning. This forced cohabitation opens up the Pandora’s box of old family dynamics, wounds that are still fresh but also the chance to make amends and realize that in the end, no matter how different these people are and how far they live from each other, their mutual love is still there and this reconnection can actually become therapeutic for them all.

Just like all adult children do when they visit home, the Altman siblings experience the inevitable regress as well, which only exposes the issues they need to work through even more. Wendy (Tina Fey), despite being the only one who seems to have it all together with a husband and children is actually far from being happy as her workaholic hubby is constantly on his phone and she has to take care of the kids by herself. To make things worse is the presence of Horry (Timothy Olyphant), her high school boyfriend who lives across the street and whose life was forever altered by a horrible accident that left him brain-damaged and broke their relationship.

Wendy and Judd are the closest among the siblings and in fact she’s the only one he’s confessed his troubles to. But their idyllic bond is put to the test as she pushes him to open up with everyone else probably because she’s too afraid to do it about her own issues. However, Judd has more to deal with when it comes to their eldest brother Paul (Corey Stoll), the only one who stayed behind to run their dad’s business which is not an easy task plus he and his wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) have been having troubles to conceive and are clearly stressed out by having to try according to ovulation schedules.

The fact that Annie used to briefly date Judd before he left reignites weird old feelings, making Paul jealous of Judd with tension mounting. But truth is that Judd only has eyes for Penny Moore (Rose Byrne) his old high school crush that never worked out because probably she was the right girl at the wrong time. Bumping into her makes Judd realize it’s never too late and that maybe he needs to finally live his life with spontaneity.

Last but not least in the family picture is Phillip, wonderfully played by Girls’ Adam Driver, the rising star of the moment. He’s the youngest child and inevitably the black sheep. He’s got nothing figured out but tries to play make-believe when he shows up with fiancée Tracy (Connie Britton), an attractive but much older woman who used to be his therapist and who obviously he’s not ready to commit to as he shamelessly proves by flirting with other girls at the funeral reception. Phillip also loves to pour gasoline on family fires rather than extinguish them as he simply has too much fun watching the chaos unfold.


Director Shawn Levy is renowned for his more commercial comedy efforts such as the Night At The Museum franchise, Cheaper By The Dozen, What Happens In Vegas, Date Night and the recent (not so successful) The Internship. Yet with This Is Where I Leave You he shows range as a solid captain steering the ship of a quite crowded dramedy where performances are everything. He directs from a script by Jonathan Tropper who adapted his own novel of the same title and I must add, thankfully.

I doubt anybody else could’ve recaptured the tone of the book and its many characters as well as the man who created them in the first place. Levy does a good job at making the most of the brilliant screenplay in both the comedic and emotional moments, guiding his amazing cast with the perfect tonal balance a film like this one demands.

Despite not breaking new thematic or storytelling ground in the realm of family dysfunction, This Is Where I Leave You is an irresistible dramedy that flies by with its blunt humour and the right dose of heart-warming quirks and it wins you over thanks to one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a while.

This Is Where I Leave You
is out in UK cinemas on October 24th

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor