Since his career revival as the lead in the TV show Arrested Development, Jason Bateman has played many roles that have traded upon his essential goodness. While others commit crimes, moral or actual, Bateman’s characters usually stay on the straight and narrow, making him relatable if a bit bland.
He’s at it again in This Is Where I Leave You, playing Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following his father’s death. It’s also shortly after he discovered his wife (Abigail Spencer) cheated on him, lending extra drama to his reunion with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and his now-widowed mother (Jane Fonda).
Despite the story missteps, it’s still fun to see this group of actors together.
With the father’s dying request for the five of them to sit Shiva, despite their not being Jewish, the family is forced to be in proximity to each other for seven days. Each family member’s various issues, foibles and screw-ups come to the fore quickly, testing the bonds of the family.
By any measure, there is a lot going on in this movie. Each person has a significant other who’s putting some kind of pressure on him or her. The return to their hometown also brings up memories from the past for several people, leading to unforeseen complications and more than a couple poor choices.
Screenwriter Jonathan Tropper adapted his own book, and it’s obvious that he and director Shawn Levy were determined to include almost everything that made the book so popular. Unfortunately, because of all the plots and subplots, it’s nearly impossible to adequately pay off every one of the storylines.
In book form, Tropper could take his time with all the characters, allowing them to become fully formed. In a 103-minute film, it’s almost inevitable that some stories will feel forced, which not only gives them short shrift but also downgrades the elements that actually work.
Tropper and Levy would have been wise to cut down or excise a few subplots, including Driver’s relationship with his ex-therapist (Connie Britton) and Fey’s pining for her high school boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant), who now lives a sad life following a brain injury.
Despite the story missteps, though, it’s still fun to see this group of actors together. Bateman, who appears in almost every scene, is the glue that keeps everything together. He interacts with almost every other character at one point or another, and his even-keeled nature keeps the film grounded when it threatens to be over the top.
This Is Where I Leave You suffers from the “too much” syndrome that usually only affects superhero movies, but the quality of its actors and the winning nature of its prime storylines make it a worthy venture in the end.