From left, Tina Fey, Cory Stoll, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman and Phillip Driver put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” as the Altman family in This Is Where I Leave You. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
3 out of 4 stars
Meet the Altmans: Judd’s reeling after coming home to see his wife sleeping with his best friend; Wendy’s locked in a loveless marriage; Paul needs to get his wife pregnant to save his marriage; and youngest brother Phillip’s too busy smoking weed and hooking up to think about committing to his much older girlfriend.
And then there’s Hillary, the family matriarch who became a best-selling author by writing about raising her kids — to their dismay — before having her breasts enlarged to the size of cantaloupes.
What’s not to like about the comedy This Is Where I Leave You, director Shawn Levy’s adaptation of Jonathan Tropper’s bestselling 2009 book of the same name?
Very little. When four siblings — played by pretty funny people – return together to their childhood home for the first time in years so they can sit shiva after their father dies, there’s no shortage of hysterical material to pull from their emotional baggage. Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Cory Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) use their chronicled childhood upbringings by Hillary (Jane Fonda) to delve into their very adult issues as they all live under the same roof for seven days of continual mourning under Jewish law.
But this movie isn’t about grieving death – it’s about embracing life, and specifically, your family. The cast’s chemistry makes you believe they grew up together in a household where Hillary made a fortune by writing a book that included passages detailing what kitchen utensil Paul used to pleasure himself as a teenager and secrets from Wendy’s diary.
This Is Where I Leave You‘s slogan may as well be: You can’t have “dysfunctional” without “f-u-n.”
This Is Where I Leave You, if nothing else, is fun. It’s about brothers and sisters realizing what causes them to get mad at their neurotic siblings is also why they love them. It’s why Wendy talks to Judd about recently sleeping with her high school sweetheart (Timothy Olyphant), with Judd confessing to Wendy his feelings for his childhood crush (played very well by Rose Byrne).
This Is Where I Leave You‘s underlying theme is that in a world of picking your friends, your dates and who you marry, you don’t get to choose your family. The 103-minute film moves fast, as the Altmans act like kids, whether it’s divulging secrets at the worst times, tormenting their childhood friend-turned-rabbi or lighting more than the eternal flame in a synagogue.
The movie weaves the five siblings’ story lines intricately, exposing how they’ve been shaped by being raised by a tell-all author of a mom who has no idea of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
None of the siblings has been really successful in life, and all have a major flaw that shows why they get on each other’s nerves. But This Is Where I Leave You shows that no matter what happens, siblings always have a vital purpose.
To be there for each other.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.