Shaun Levy’s latest drama-comedy offering comes in the form of the oddly named This is Where I Leave You consisting of a stellar cast and an interesting premise, this film has all the ingredients for a touching and uplifting comedy drama but falls short in delivering any kind of emotional blow, despite its constant attempts.
Jason Bateman plays Judd, who shortly after discovering his wife in bed with his boss learns that his father has died. He travels home to be with his sister Wendy (Tina Fey), youngest brother Philip (Adam Driver), older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) and mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) where they have to honor the Jewish tradition of Shiva, which is a week-long mourning period. So they are all forced to be together for a whole week, with their respective partners, which for a dysfunctional family spells trouble. There is an inordinate amount of soul searching from each member of the family, the outcomes of which are on occasion surprisingly unpredictable but in most cases you can see what’s going to happen even before it happens. As soon as you learn that Rose Byrne’s character is not a member of the family, you know exactly what her purpose in the film is. Sadly, through no fault of her own, she is cast as the incredibly annoying, aloof, life loving, cool ice skater girl who plays on her own promiscuousness.
The problem with this film does not lie with its cast, except for Jane Fonda but I will get to that, it’s in that this family is completely unbelievable, their conversations and chemistry with each other is horribly shallow and amidst all the dysfunction and hate they have for each other, any kind of genuine relationship between them is impossible because their characters have been written so badly. My biggest problem with films like this, thinking back to The Internship which was also directed by Shaun Levy, is the horrendous portrayal of women. The female characters are so badly written and unimaginatively developed that you have to wonder what their purpose is it all, apart from to support the male characters and help their stories along. I mean, he has clearly tried by making Jane Fonda’s character a late-in-life lesbian, but my showing us her boobs and having her openly talk about sexual positions she practiced with her late husband shows that all she is good for is asserting her sexuality and making bad jokes. As for Tina Fey and Rose Byrne, both reputable, strong female figures of the film industry, both given weak and annoying parts to play. Tina Fey’s character seemingly lives in the shadow of her successful, asshole husband until she decides she wants to leave him which doesn’t empower her, it weakens her. As for Rose Byrne, she is just there to represent the past, what could have been and to be Bateman’s rebound sex to help him get over his cheating wife. Admittedly it does turn into more than that, but even when they decided to have a ‘relationship’ she is still fails to have any sort of identity of her own. Finally, Connie Britton who plays Adam Driver’s girlfriend, is on paper a strong willed, career woman who is a successful, mature therapist. In reality she is a bimbo who has bagged herself a younger man to sleep with and who worries about whether or not he is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend. On occasion she vomits out some ‘therapist speak’ but her strength is massively undermined by her weakness which is worrying about boys. All of these women could have been played by unknown actors but the parts were given to high class actors in an effort to bring some star quality to a mediocre film. The male parts aren’t exactly exciting either but they are the driving force behind the film in general, I mean where is the imagination? The most generic characters have been unloaded onto some great actors in the hope that they might be able to inject some personality into them and unfortunately it hasn’t worked. Oh, and Jane Fonda shouldn’t do movies any more.
Feminist views and poor writing aside, the movie is quite nice. It’s a good movie to watch just to have something on and would probably vastly improve when enjoyed with some alcohol (responsibly, of course) the soundtrack is the saving grace and when music is playing it’s the only time when you are able to feel a connection to the story or the characters, which is the work of the artists, not the film makers. I didn’t cry once, I barely laughed, but I didn’t turn it off. There was far too much soul searching for my liking and way too much expositional dialogue I felt like I was being treated like an idiot, but that said it definitely isn’t an awful movie, it’s just a very average romantic-drama-comedy, but without any comedy or drama and only a handful of romance. Judge for yourself when it debuts SATURDAY, MAY 09 at 8:00pm.