Imagine Jane Fonda as a Jewish mother. If you can do that, you’ll love THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU. Now imagine that Fonda’s children are Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll, siblings who all return home –with spouses, kids, girlfriends in tow–after their father has died, and sit shiva for seven days under one roof. The movie doesn’t break any new ground but there is an excitement in anticipating what this cast will do together–and they absolutely come through, covering old ground in a fresh way!
Jason Bateman as Judd may be the sanest member of the Altman family, though his marriage has just crashed, and his father has just died. The movie begins and ends with him, and trust me, he’s the easiest way in. The rest of his sibs careen around the house and their surgically enhanced, top-heavy mother with angst to spare. Fonda is perfect as the famous “tell all” author Hillary Altman who has used her family’s intimate dynamics as fodder for her best-selling pop psych books. Tina Fey is dryly funny as Wendy the sister who may drink a little too much, is married to a superficial jerk, and has a wisecrack for every occasion–though she harbors the pain of a lost love. Corey Stoll as oldest brother Paul is a stiff who’s married to Judd’s onetime girlfriend Alice who’s desperately trying to get pregnant.
The lanky Adam Driver (TV’s “GIRLS”)and one of the most unique presences on film today, plays baby brother Phillip who taunts his oldest brother mercilessly, and bangs around the house, fueled by weed, blowing the roof off the joint at inopportune moments with exceedingly inappropriate outbursts. He’s also dating his older female therapist who shows up as the gorgeous Connie Britton. Rose Byrne makes a welcome, though perhaps too beautiful appearance as Penny Moore, the single girl who never left home.
Tensions mount, confessions are blurted, secrets spilled, fist fights flow– a bit too regularly as people come and go with casseroles. There’s also a heavy-handed, long-running potty training joke as metaphor, and a doozy of a revelation in the penultimate moment that doesn’t really work.
But the film does have a good ear for the rituals of awkward small talk, especially around the “bereaved,” as well as some bittersweet observations about the things in life we just can’t seem to get over. There’s also an acknowledgement that there’s no short-circuiting life’s surprises. All in all, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU left me laughing and entertained, and watching this cast trip through the tropes of modern adult life with an open-hearted optimism, kept me there!