This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You is one of those movies that feels like it would have been better off as a television series rather than a movie. First of all, there are simply too many characters to develop over the running time of a feature film, resulting in a film that feels very shallow. Secondly, it just so happens that every featured actor in the film, minus Jane Fonda, earned a reputation as a television actor. The high profile cast is certainly the story with this film, but when you take that out of consideration, there is not much left over to get excited about.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, a radio talk show producer who gets a one-two punch from life when he discovers that for the last year, his wife has been sleeping with his boss and then that his father has suddenly died. Judd’s mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) tells him that his Atheist father’s dying wish was that his wife and four children sit Shiva, a Jewish mourning tradition where immediate family of the deceased spend a week at home all together receiving visitors. This becomes the impetus for the rest of the film. For the first time in years, Judd now finds himself face to face with his uptight older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), his careless younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver), his sassy sister Wendy (Tina Fey) and of course his over-sharing mother Hillary.  Fonda does get to have fun in her role as a mother who cares about her kids but not enough to not expose all sorts of embarrassing details from their lives in her best selling guide to raising children.

With all of this talent assembled, it’s a shame that most of what follows is one cliché after another. Timothy Olyphant does manage to evoke some real heart with his role as Horry, a brain injured neighbor and ex-boyfriend of Wendy’s. His scenes and those about him are the truest and strongest in the film even though he is a very minor character. In contrast, the budding relationship between Judd and a former high school squeeze, Penny Moore (Rose Byrne) becomes the focal point of the film and yet feels deeply artificial.

Director Shawn Levy is no stranger to films with lots of characters and no character development; he also directed the Night at the Museum films, the third installment of which is due out this December. Levy reduces This is Where I Leave You into a series of romantic follies where every character is in a relationship but suddenly wants to be with someone else. That would be fine if we were watching a Shakespearean comedy, but This is Where I Leave You has no satirical layer that makes this absurdity meaningful. These people become sitcom characters at best, and that’s why the small screen may have been a better destination for this story. C-

This is Where I Leave You is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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Calvary

calvaryCalvary is a layered movie anchored by a fine performance from Irish actor, Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson has appeared in many high profile films like the Harry Potter series, Gangs of New York, and most recently this year’s Edge of Tomorrow. Yet it is with his smaller films (The General, In Bruges) that he has been able to give his greatest performances. That trend continues with Calvary.

Calvary is the second of a planned trio of films directed by John Michael McDonagh that star Gleeson; the first being 2011’s The Guard. These films are not connected by character, plot, or even tone. But they are related thematically. In Calvary, Gleeson plays Father James, the priest of a small village parish in Western Ireland. The film opens with Father James hearing confession from a mysterious parishioner who in the midst of confessing a tortuous childhood at the hands of an abusive priest, reveals that he is going to murder Father James because his abuser is already dead and that murdering a “good” priest will be a bigger story. He concludes by summoning James to meet him the following Sunday for his execution. The film then becomes a “who’s-gonna-do-it” as it chronicles Father James’s week as he interacts with a host of characters all with a seemingly bitter view towards the Catholic Church or religion in general, and consequently are all suspects. Ironically, many of these characters have rational reasons for their negative perspectives on Catholicism, God, and religion, yet James is by far the most likable character. And yet James himself is not an average priest. An alcoholic, he joined the priesthood later in life and has a suicidal daughter (Kelly Reilly) whom he looks after, all of this accentuated by the looming threat over his life. As the film progresses, we become less focused on Father James’s fearful situation and more on the individuals surrounding him. While the identity of the threat is engaging, it is not particularly difficult to figure out, nor is it entirely important who it actually is.

Instead, as Father James goes about his week, the film becomes a sort of Canterbury Tales for the modern age. All of the characters James interacts with have a revealing story that reflects their status in society and that status is tempered with varying levels of sinful behavior. These questionable characters (the Atheist Doctor, the rich and corrupt ex-banker, the lustful housewife just to name a few) all invite the viewer to ponder the seven deadly sins during Father James’s appropriately poetic seven day journey to his supposed imminent death.

Thus, McDonagh has a rich, textured film here that is open to interpretation and with every question it answers, it poses a new one in its place. Ultimately, a microcosm is formed that revolves around a virtuous central character and as we watch him break down we can’t help but fear for ourselves. McDonagh enhances this discomfort with abrupt scene transitions that surprise us, make us wince, and keep us on guard. Calvary is a film that actually yearns to be preachy, and while what it preaches is not entirely clear you’ll be engrossed anyway. B+

Calvary is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.