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This is Where I Leave You

This was one of my awaited movies of the year simply because I loved the book (and anything Jonathan Tropper seems to write, but my favorites so far are the source novel and How to Talk to a Widower). From the books I’ve read, Tropper seems to enjoy writing about dysfunctional characters, focusing his woes on male characters and applying them in situations where they can grow out of it. This was one of them. With a good source novel and an amazing cast line up, you would think this movie would be a gem. Unfortunately, it was not, but it still didn’t damper my love for the book and this cast.

Judd Altman was a radio show producer whose life began to unravel when he finds his wife sleeping with his boss. On top of that, his father had passed away, and his last request was for his family to shit shiva, a Jewish ritual. The events then bring together the Altman family: older brother Paul, whose wife used to be Judd’s girlfriend, his sister Wendy, whose dealing with her own marriage, and younger brother Phillip, a man who refuses to grow up. As the shiva proceeds, the story also brings in people from Judd’s past, as well as having the family deal with the baggage they’re all currently handling. 

The casting director certainly did not waste time with a line up like this. Even the minor characters get played by amazing actors that it’s hard to think that this movie would screw up. The cast is this star studded cast whose careers you’ve followed from television to movies and you know they can do both comedy and drama. Yet, something in the movie was way off. It wanted to hit some emotional notes, and yet the delivery seems deadpan or it was just wrong, or it looked forced. For a great cast, there was some really bad acting involved that I can do a top 3 instances of bad acting right now. 

The script itself was written by the author so you’d expect that he has a firm grasp of the transition from page to screen. While he did keep the basic elements, the scenes were trying to focus on each Altman’s dilemma that none of them get decent story lines that focus on their character. Sure they were all on camera a lot, but if I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t be clued in on what’s happening. We get a lot of off-cam action as transitions but it doesn’t do justice to the characters. The movie mainly focused on Judd and Wendy, with Phillip always lingering at the background (hence his own story doesn’t get a decent development), and Paul just shows up whenever convenient (which totally wastes Corey Stoll’s talent). However, because of Wendy’s constant mopey attitude, she doesn’t even get any context for her miserable life (and I’m guessing partly why Tina Fey was always on camera is because it’s Tina Fey), which then puts Timothy Olyphant as a thankless character that completely fades away. Judd gets a somewhat decent story line, but gets stuck with two quirky ladies and this miserable, stoic attitude that you don’t see what those women actually saw in him. Phillip: basically a lingerer whose adult issues just pop up when convenient for the script. A lot of characters got washed up because of the script, including Jane Fonda. Only Katherine Hahn managed to shine in the scenes she was in, even if there was this one awkward moment. 

But what probably hurt the film the most was the direction. Shawn Levy is known for his comedies, and this is his turn at dramedy. Both genres were a miss. It’s either the delivery was too late, or the reaction was not expressed well, or the actors didn’t understand the simple complexity of their character that they fail to read what their character was about. The whole production was some kind of a mess that you’d have to take them (acting, script, directing) apart to appreciate it, but when put together, they didn’t mix well.

There are plenty of elements that would work in the movie, but the execution itself failed to make it endearing and charming. Even the cinematography of the movie was wasted; you can't disguise a poorly made movie through a pretty picture. It had potential to be good, but it definitely needs some improvement. 

Final Word: So much wasted talent. You'd think this would be endearing but it was all over the place. It wasn't as messy or horrid as other movies, but a disappointment just the same.

Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda
Director: Shawn Levy
Year: 2014


  1. Yeah, I've read that this was just so disappointing, and so I'm just going to avoid it all together. I'm sorry that it didn't live up to your hopes, especially since you love the source material so much. I hate when they get an adaptation so terribly wrong. It's happened to some of my favorite novels.

    1. What's bad about this being terrible is that the author himself wrote the screenplay, so if chances are that he was in the filming location, he didn't manage to pinpoint where the director was getting his work wrong, or he was pretty content with this - and the movie pretty much butchered his novel. This wasted a great, talented cast.

  2. This film was just okay. Nothing fantastic, but not bad. I am starting to like Adam Driver more though. (Ouside of Girls, because that show is still terrible)

    1. I haven't seen a lot of Adam Driver's work, but he was all right here, even if his story arc didn't get a decent development.


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