This 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.