TIFF 2014: “This Is Where I Leave You” – Movie Review By Zachary Marsh

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In death, there is always a silver lining.  In the case of “This Is Where I Leave You,” the death is of a loving husband and father, and the silver lining is a reunion of somewhat estranged siblings who are granting their father’s dying wish of performing a week-long Jewish mourning ceremony called a “shivah.”  The family isn’t Jewish, but this was the father’s last request, so his kids are honoring the request.  The kids are played by notoriously comedic actors Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll, and the father’s widow is played by Jane Fonda.  Add “Real Steal,” “Night at the Museum,” and “Date Night” director Shawn Levy into the mix, and what’s expected is a hilarious comedy with a nice heart, right? Well, I’d think again if I were you.  This film is more of a drama that has comedic characters and elements sprinkled into it.  Luckily, the movie itself works on many levels, making “This Is Where I Leave You” a film that I happily give a strong recommendation to.

The main focus of the film is mostly on Jason Bateman’s character Judd, who’s just caught his wife sleeping with his boss.   In terms of performances, Bateman here shows off a more dramatic side to his acting talents, ala his role in last year’s overlooked gem “Disconnect.” While he is funny during the film’s many comedic moments, Bateman excels during the film’s more emotional moments.  There’s a scene towards the end of the movie where he simply breaks down and lets his emotions run free, and to me that helped to show how hard it can be to cope with the death of a loved one.  I have a feeling that people may be surprised at how deep he can be in terms of playing a man who is trying to deal with so much tragedy in his current state of life.

Tina Fey is fine as Judd’s sister Wendy, simple as that.  Struggling with two kids and a constantly working husband, Wendy has her own demons that she’s facing during this week-long trip down memory lane.  While I didn’t think her acting or her story were as strong as Bateman’s, I still felt Fey did a fine job in the drama department, though she’ll need to work on her dramatic side a bit more if she wants to pursue more films like this.  Another actress who has both funny and emotional elements in the film is Jane Fonda, who portrays the mourning widow Hilary.  The family hates her because of the books she’s written featuring explicit details about the family, with the irony being that she has her own unrevealed secrets hiding in the closet.  For the most part, Fonda plays her role well, effectively capturing what it may be like for someone to lose someone as dear to them as their husband.  As solid as these three actors were, they didn’t even come close to the scene-stealers that this film had.

The two best actors in the movie, without a doubt, were Adam Driver and Rose Byrne.  From the moment Driver, well, literally drives in to the movie blasting loud rap music, we as an audience know that we’re going to love this guy.  And as hilarious as he is, Driver also knows when to capture a softer and more heartfelt side in the scenes that require him to do so.  There’s one particular scene involving him and his brothers in a synagogue (Jewish place of praying) that is both funny, sweet, and even a bit relatable.  Driver is quickly becoming, to me at least, one of the most interesting and best young comedians to be in films, with other projects like “What If,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and, most famously, his role on the HBO show “Girls” backing his talents up.

As for Byrne, she shows that she’s really good at playing the “girl next door” type of person.  Having already proven her acting skills in movies like “Bridesmaids” and most recently “Neighbors,” Byrne shines here as the spunky, eccentric girl who actually had a crush on Bateman’s character as a child.  She shares some delightful scenes with Bateman, and overall just captures the type of vibe that makes you want to be best friends with her.  And while there isn’t much drama to her character, Byrne still manages to suck the audience in and work with the script to give an overall great performance.  The rest of the cast, including the likes of Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, and Connie Britton, didn’t particularly stand out for me as much as the ones already mentioned, but to be perfectly honest, there weren’t any bad performances present here for me.

The problems that I have with this movie were actually with some things in the script.  Jonathan Tropper’s adaptation of his novel for the most part is well written, funny, and incredibly heartfelt.  However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t things here that sort of irked me.  For example, Kathryn Hahn’s character really wants to have a kid with her husband, played by Corey Stoll.  After a bit of news involving Jason Bateman’s character is revealed, she suddenly has a thing for Bateman, wanting him to get her pregnant once and for all.  This not only was out of place, but also wasn’t fully developed enough in order to make this situation plausible or believable.  If there had been a little more focus on Hahn’s struggle with reproduction, then maybe this wouldn’t have been such a problem for me.  Another thing that irked me was that, while the ending sort of wrapped things up nicely with every character, the ending with Bateman and his decisions for the rest of his life were left a bit ambiguous and overall were kind of confusing personally speaking.  When you see the movie, this complaint might make a little more sense with you.  But honestly, these problems were pretty small, as the script as a whole is pretty damn great if I must say so myself.

“This Is Where I Leave You” is a movie that I’m happy was as good as it had looked.  The cast wasn’t wasted in the slightest, and the script helped to make a funny, dramatic, and all-around heartwarming tale that I’m sure will connect with many older families.  Shawn Levy truly shows here that he’s capable of making a funny and serious comedy without the use of special effects or big budgets, as shown with his other projects.  I would definitely like to see more from him in this field of filmmaking, and hopefully he does do more of these types of indie-esque ensemble comedies.  If you have ever had a big death in your family, I have a feeling that you’ll relate to the things that the Aldman family here goes through during their week-long period of mourning, especially if you’re Jewish.  So at the end of the day, I found “This Is Where I Leave You” to be funny, well-acted, well-written, and an overall touching ensemble film that I really believe will manage to connect with audiences everywhere.



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