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film review: this is where i leave you

This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You tells the story of four siblings who get together for seven days under the same roof for the first time in years following the death of their father. Sharing space the house they grew up in forces this family to confront their many issues and personal deficiencies.

There is a mother with boundary issues (Jane Fonda) and a talented supporting crew of ex-partners, spouses and lost loves. The siblings share a cantankerous dynamic and each have their own defining issue to battle with. Judd (Jason Batman) is a man whose life has been mapped out since he was a teenager and is now confronted with the unknown when his wife leaves him for his boss. Wendy (Tina Fey) is a forthright and thoroughly loveable woman who is married to a humourless, loveless man. Paul (Corey Stoll) is a very beige person trying and not succeeding to have a child with his wife. Last, but certainly not least, Phillip (Adam Driver), is a charismatic, hipster man-boy dating a significantly older woman who is also his therapist. Driver continues to impress by stretching his considerable acting talents even further with each role (the character arc of his role in the TV show Girls is prime evidence of Driver’s range as an actor).

When the credits rolled for this film I was a little confused. I didn’t know what kind of film I’d just watched. Was it a family reunion drama? A trying-to-be-black comedy? Was it a little of both? I understand the reasoning behind trying to meld the two styles into one. This kind of story-telling can be an entertaining and provocative way to portray what can happen when a big family come together – when old sores are picked at it can be uncomfortably funny and horrible all at once. There are chuckle worthy moments along with ones that are trying for bittersweet poignancy that miss the mark. Nevertheless, I left the theatre feeling like either I’d missed something — or that director Shawn Levy had.

The premise of this film, along with the ensemble cast, should have made for a moving and engaging story about how dysfunctional families can be. Little Miss Sunshine is an excellent example of this kind of film; it was simultaneously hysterically funny and very moving. It is a very delicate balance to strike that many films haven’t quite managed and This Is Where I Leave You is, sadly, one of them. This film feels more like a schizophrenic, undecided collection of scenes than a movie.

Some of the highlights were watching Jane Fonda, in the role of matriarch Hillary, who had recently undergone breast enhancement surgery and was not shy about putting them on display, much to the consternation of her children. Just when you are about to write this woman off as a caricature of self-absorption, she recognises a serious moment of need in her son Judd, and sits him down to explain in no uncertain terms how well loved he was by his late father. This is a feeling that almost everyone can relate to – there are members of your family that will drive you batty most of the time, but occasionally will come through with exactly the kind of emotional support you need when you need it the most.

Similarly, Rose Byrne was a pleasure to watch in her turn as an old flame of Judd’s. Byrne’s comic timing (previously demonstrated in I Give It A Year and Bad Neighbours) was in fine form playing the role of a socially maladjusted yet oddly appealing woman. Unfortunately, this particular story-line gave in to the cliché of the ‘manic pixie girl’ sent to rescue a man from his problems.

This Is Where I Leave You is by no means a bad film but it’s pretty unremarkable. I’d probably just stay home and rent Little Miss Sunshine instead.

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