A group of dysfunctional adult siblings come together after the death of their father in “This is Where I Leave You,” and the results are pretty “Meh.” Despite a promising ensemble cast that includes Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Adam Driver, the overall effect is less than the sum of its parts. Marketed as a mordant but moving dramedy, it was in fact a glib amalgam of other, better films.
The fact is that there are just so many movies, period, that even the most “surprising” of plot twists now seems to simply spring from the indie-flavored movie playbook. Despite the intention of an original adult drama, this film was actually a schmaltzy attempt at a certain kind of movie, but one that lacked in terms of its own authenticity.
Shawn Levy, a veteran of extremely successful films like the trio of “Night at the Museum” movies, clearly wanted to make a big boy movie this time, and I read several interviews in which he expressed consternation over almost directing “The Way, Way Back” before that fell through. But certain movies are magic and you can’t fake it, and trying to emulate them is not the way to get that magic, no matter how much you may admire the original.
Jason Bateman portrays the main brother, who just caught his wife in bed with his boss, an obnoxious shock jock played by Dax Shepherd. After a life doing everything he thinks is right, things still go terribly wrong for him, and Tina Fey explains to us that he is too committed to keeping things simple. However, all we see is Jason Bateman doing his trademark Jason Bateman wince.
Tina Fey had good sisterly chemistry with Jason Bateman and wild child baby brother Adam Driver, but her story on its own was not well-defined. Her transition to drama was spotty, and representative of the film’s problems as a whole. For example, in an early scene she calls Jason Bateman from the hospital to tell him their father, long-ill, has died. Is she really sad, or funny-sad? At first Fey plays it straight, then their mother, played by Jane Fonda, starts to aggressively yank a tube from the lifeless body of her husband, who flails in an exaggerated and humorous way. Then Tina Fey-isms come out as she scolds her mom and hangs up.
As always, Adam Driver was the best thing in the movie, and actually portrayed a character, although his backstory was pretty sketchy and he was primarily a foil for the older siblings. Plot wise, there were details and complications galore, mostly centered on some variation of the siblings’ first loves hanging around, making them question their life choices.
I just got the feeling that everyone wanted to remake some version of their own favorite quirky dramatic comedy, only starring themselves, because it seemed like a cool and appealing notion. But at the end of the day, was it really any less formulaic than (Oscar frontrunner) “Furious 7?” Sure, “This is Where I Leave You” might have been made from a different formula, but it strictly adhered nonetheless.