There’s one thing nobody can take away from This Is Where I Leave You: its stellar cast.
Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant and the underrated Corey Stoll. If there’s a dramedy to be made about contemporary upper-middle-class Americans going about their contemporary upper-middle-class lives, then this is the crew that can pull it off. And they are certainly the best thing about This Is Where I Leave You, an amiable and occasionally funny but flyweight film that’s probably what would happen if someone ever made Modern Family The Movie.
There’s certainly nothing new about the premise. Members of a far-flung, dysfunctional family are called home after the death of the father and the reunion prompts a variety of secrets and simmering grudges to surface. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Though, in this case, the family is Jewish and everyone has to sit shiva for seven days, meaning they’re in close quarters for a long period of time so that even more sparks can fly.
Bateman is Judd Altman, a producer for a radio shock-jock, who has discovered his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair. Younger brother Phillip (Driver) is a slacker who is in a relationship with his therapist, Tracy (Britton), who also shows up for the shiva. Oldest brother Paul (Stoll) and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) are having trouble conceiving a child. Alice used to date Judd years ago and it’s still a sore point between the brothers. Sister Wendy (Fey) seems the most grounded, though all is not well in her marriage to high-flying exec Holly (Olyphant). Meanwhile, Judd’s childhood friend Penny (Byrne) is glad he’s back in town because she’s still crushing on him.
Shepherding all of them is mom Hillary (Fonda), who just wants everyone to get along, play nice and share their memories of dear old Dad. Hilarity, or at least amusement, ensues.
Based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Shawn Levy (who has a resume of middlebrow comedies like The Internship and the Night at the Museum movies), This Is Where I Leave You has nothing new to say about families as it predictably runs the emotional arc from manic to maudlin. While there are chuckles, there’s little that’s laugh-out-loud funny and the drama feels prefabricated. And there’s at least one running gag — the family’s nickname for the rabbi and his offended reaction — that’s not particularly humorous but is repeated ad nauseum.
Still, Fonda is terrific as a woman trying to keep her family and herself together while Driver is engaging with his lanky goofball persona and Fey gets to show off a slightly more serious side. Bateman, as usual, does his best as the put-upon yuppie everyman.
If it weren’t for the cast though, This Is Where I Leave You would be just another sitcom with a bigger budget and more swearing.
Cast: Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Corey Stoll.
Director: Shawn Levy.
Screenwriter: Johnny Trooper. Based on his novel.
A Warner Bros. Studios release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use. Playing at area theaters.