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Review: This is Where I Leave You

September 24, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

This is Where I Leave You Poster

Shawn Levy is a director whose films I often find myself enjoying for various reasons, and his dysfunctional family dramedy This is Where I Leave You is no different.  What can I say?  I guess I just have a soft spot for his brand of feel good comedies with heart.

This might not be a perfect film, but it works as an entertaining diversion, with a great cast that is always fun to watch.  After premiering at TIFF earlier this month, Warner Bros. released This is Where I Leave You last weekend.

After walking in on his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard), Judd (Jason Bateman) gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) to tell him that their ailing father has passed away.  To make things worse, their self help author mother (Jane Fonda) informs them at the funeral that her husband’s last wish was for them to all sit Shiva, and spend the week together under the same roof.

This includes oldest brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who’s wife (Kathryn Hahn) is growing hysterical trying to get pregnant.  Then there’s youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver), a perpetual slacker who brings alongs his much older girlfriend (Connie Britton), who just so happens to be his therapist.  All four siblings have their own issues.  Wendy is stuck in a dead end marriage to the father of her two young young kids, and still has feelings for neighbour Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who was never the same after a brain injury.  Judd starts to rediscover the spark that he never lost with his high school sweetheart Penny (Rose Byrne).

The film does stumble a few times, when a more serious scene is suddenly punctuated by a pratfall or cheap gag courtesy of the toddler who keeps showing up clutching a potty like his favourite play thing, and proceeding to use it in the most inappropriate of places.  A certain scene with Kathryn Hahn’s character let’s just say coming on too strong feels especially off.  These sometimes awkward attempts at slapstick humour can distract from the more genuine scenes, and it’s actually in the quieter character moments that This is Where I Leave You really comes alive.

This is a dream comic cast, and it’s often fun just to watch them playing off each other, effortlessly trading sharp verbal quips.  Jason Bateman and Tina Fey have some wonderful scenes together, with a very natural and believable chemistry as brother and sister, that is refreshing to see captured this well on screen.  Adam Driver delivers his share of memorable moments, with his crack comic timing and delivery providing some of the film’s biggest and best laughs.  Rose Byrne also has a few charming scenes as the quirky romantic interest who is easy for the audience to fall in love with.

Adapting his own novel for the screen, writer Jonathan Tropper often does a nice job of setting up all the characters and putting their various issues into play, which Shawn Levy directs with his usual warm touch.  The central players are all believable as siblings, and there are some moments of insight about how they will always have each other’s backs, even when the last thing they want is to be living together again.  “You guys are idiots,” Wendy tells her brothers after their latest mishap, “but you’re my idiots.”

Although there are a few missteps along the way, as a whole This is Where I Leave You comes together quite nicely and works more often than it doesn’t.  This is ultimately a big hearted and never less than entertaining dramady, that provides an enjoyable escape from your own dysfunctional family for a couple of hours, in the company of actors who we don’t mind spending time with.

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