Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This Is a Waste of a Great Cast and Our Money: Our Review of "This Is Where I Leave You" (2014)

Directed By: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver

Rating: R for language, sexual content and some drug use

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Synopsis: Already dealing with the discovery that his wife is cheating on him with his boss, Judd Altman (Bateman) returns home for his father's funeral and to sit shiva with his famous author mother (Fonda) and his squabbling siblings (Fey, Stoll, Driver) per his father's last request. Traditional Hollywood family drama ensues.


Andrew: Hello dear readers! We were a little quiet the last week or so because my mother visited us last weekend and we were unable to catch any new releases, but we're back this week after having seen This Is Where I Leave You this past Friday night.

This Is Where I Leave You is a film we've been waiting to see for a while now because of the star-studded cast full of actors and actresses we very much enjoy. The film stars Jason Bateman (Bad Words) as Judd Altman, a radio producer who gets hit with the double-whammy of discovering his wife had been cheating on him with his boss, followed by the death of his father. His father's passing brings the whole Altman clan together, where we meet Judd's sister Wendy, played by Tina Fey (NBC's 30 Rock); his younger brother Philip, played by Adam Driver (HBO's Girls); his older brother Paul, played by Corey Stoll (Netflix's House of Cards); and his mother Hillary, played by Jane Fonda (HBO's The Newsroom), who's famous for writing a parenting book that explicitly detailed her children's lives.

And that's just the immediate family. Philip's older girlfriend is played by the great Connie Britton (ABC's Nashville); Paul's wife, Annie, is played by the hilarious Cathryn Hahn (Bad Words); and a neighbor/former flame of Wendy's that she still holds a torch for is played by Timothy Olyphant (FX's Justified). So this is a pretty great cast on paper.

Sarah, now that we've actually seen This Is Where I Leave You, do you think the movie lived up to the promise the cast gave? Or were these actors wasted?

Sarah: And let's not forget Rose Byrne (Neighbors) as the hometown girl who had a thing for Judd when he was a youngster! 

Going into this movie, I figured it was going to a character study, you know, really breaking down these family members and seeing what makes them tick in a thoroughly dysfunctional way. And in showing the dysfunction, they did not disappoint. But other than that? This movie fell totally flat for me. There was no one in this movie that I didn't like as an actor, but the way that they came across on the big screen was just such a bummer. 

Let's start with the star, Jason Bateman. He can be really hilarious. Horrible Bosses is a great movie and a personal favorite of ours that highlights Bateman's dry delivery, but in this movie he was just a downer. It was nothing but his dry delivery and with sub-par humor in the dialogue. 

The Altman family sitting shiva following the funeral of the family patriarch. The looks on their faces pretty much
mirrors the expressions we had while watching their movie.

A: I totally forgot about Rose Byrne here, which I think goes to show that not only was this movie maybe a little TOO loaded with big name actors, but that she was given short shrift. 

And I think that's a running theme in the film for me, starting with Jason Bateman, as you mentioned. Bateman's Judd is our de facto protagonist - he's the character that the audience views the rest of the proceedings through. And while we love Bateman, I think you're spot on that the director and screenwriters leaned too heavily on his dry wit but didn't give him much to do with it. They didn't give him much room to explore, especially considering all the life-changing crap his Judd is dealt in this movie.

And that was kind of the overall problem I had with this film - the didn't delve deep enough into the characters and their problems. We only got the surface level of what they were all dealing with, don't you think?

S: I do. The character development in this movie was just surface fluff. And it was very disappointing. I found it to be such surface, almost trivial problems. It was like the director and writer were trying to be original and shocking with all the problems in the family, but they totally weren't. It was just pages out of the movie characters life problems playbook. Like, "Someone's cheating, someone's preggo, someone can't grow up, and someone's gay." It just wasn't very original. 

A: This is probably a good time to point out that this movie is based off of a book of the same name by Jonathan Tropper, who did in fact write the screenplay, too. But yeah, the filmmakers only really scratched the surface of some of these problems. A great example is how Paul and his wife are struggling to have a baby. They touch on the fact that Paul refuses to get tested for his virility, and they show that Alice is taking hormone shots, but we get absolutely no resolution to their "problem." 

And Tina Fey's Wendy...I really wish they had gone further with showing us the relationship she used to have with Timothy Olyphant's Horry. We get that they dated back in the day and they were madly in love, but then they got into a car accident that left Horry brain-damaged, which led to Wendy moving on with her life while Horry was left behind to become a townie because of his handicap. That's some interesting stuff, but it didn't really go anywhere.

S: Exactly! I kinda felt like, "What was the point of that?" a lot throughout this movie. It says a lot to the quality of writing that this movie was such a bummer. You can throw all the A-listers you want at something, but at the end of the day, they can only work with what they're given. 

Even Jane Fonda, who we absolutely LOVE in The Newsroom, was a flat note. She was probably the funniest in the movie and that's saying something. She wasn't believable as a grieving wife, in my opinion. And yes, I get that her husband had been battling whatever he died from for a while, but still! Seem a little bummed! I don't know, it just all kind of rubbed me the wrong way. 

A: I think this movie suffered from a huge case of "all the funny parts were spoiled in the trailer," too. This cast has some of the funnier actors/actresses working in Hollywood right now and most of their funny parts were used in the trailer, so when we saw them in the film it was just, "meh." Couple that with the fact that there weren't many other funny parts other than those that were in the trailer, and that little "meh" becomes an even bigger "MEH." If that makes sense.

I was just disappointed by this movie, overall. I know I'm not the first person to make this statement on the internet, but I really wish we could see this cast in a better movie. They were just sooooo wasted. The siblings all had hints of chemistry between them but it totally fizzled here, which is the biggest disappointment.

Rose Byrne, who was arguably the best part of this year's smash hit comedy Neighbors, is pretty much
wasted in This Is Where I Leave You. She's an unfortunate victim of an overstuffed and undercooked movie.

S: The lack of chemistry was painful to watch. And there were plenty of times when I was like, "Ooooo that's uncomfortable." It was like discomfort for the sake of discomfort and nothing more. 

I know we have been tearing this one apart pretty bad, but its pedigree should have produced a better movie. 

A: I think this one deserves to be torn apart a bit. It was very disappointing. When your stars are Jason Bateman and Tina Fey and the funniest parts of the movie are when a little boy is going around with his training potty and pretty much doing his business wherever and whenever he feels like it, well...I think the symbolism of that isn't lost.

That all said, there were some things I enjoyed here. I did like Rose Byrne and Connie Britton here, even if neither of them was given a whole lot to do. I liked Olyphant's Horry, as he was given some funny, self-deprecating jokes to make about his head injury. And I enjoyed the running gag involving the Altman's young rabbi (played by Ben Schwartz, whom I enjoy very much on Parks and Recreation) and how they repeatedly refer to him by his childhood nickname, much to his chagrin. 

S: We're forcing these compliments a bit but yes, those are some bright spots. 

Ok, so...what are our final thoughts on this movie that we were really excited about?

A: Overall, This Is Where I Leave You was very disappointing. Great cast, but they're given nothing to really work with that works for them. When people like Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Jane Fonda can't make your material work, it's not good material. I could see this as a fine movie to watch some day if you happen across it on TV, but it's not worth it in theatres. Also, and this just came to my mind, if you want to see a movie that kind of does the dysfunctional family thing a bit better and tugs at the heartstrings a little more, just watch The Family Stone. That was a film I kept comparing this to while we were watching it.

S: EXACTLY! Ok. That pretty much sums up what this movie should have aspired to be and just completely missed the mark. While it was incredibly disappointing, it was good to be back in the theaters and we're looking forward to many more fantastic movies this Fall. 

For our final score, I'm going to give this one a 2 out of 5 clapboards

A: That's the exact score I was going to give it, too! 2 out of 5 clapboards it is.


(Individual Scores - S: 2/5  A: 2/5)

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia, Warner Bros.

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