Based on a best-selling novel and packed with A-list stars, “This Is Where I Leave You” is the kind of movie critics love to hate. And audiences simply love.
For this movie, I’m proud to consider myself a member of the audience.
I haven’t read Jonathan Tropper’s book so I can’t tell you how closely the movie follows it, but I certainly want to read it now. Although his story of a dysfunctional family may be over the top, it’s surprisingly thought-provoking and relatable – and often laugh-out-loud hilarious.
After their father dies, matriarch Hilary (Jane Fonda, looking amazing at 76) summons her four kids, forcing them to sit shiva together in their childhood home for a week. As we all know, there is something about being back in your parents’ house that immediately makes you revert to acting like a child again. The four siblings smoke on the roof, make a jailbreak after bedtime to go out drinking, and run out of the room when Hilary talks about how well-endowed their father was.
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With the adult problems they have, they wish they could be kids again.
Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the process of divorcing his wife who he found in bed with his boss, leaving him alone and unemployed. Wendy (Tina Fey) is stuck in a loveless marriage and pines for her old boyfriend, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident and still lives in the house next door. Oldest sibling Paul (Corey Stoll) is dealing with infertility issues with his wife who is desperate to have a baby, and youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver) destroys every relationship he has and is unable to commit although he does bring home an older woman (Connie Britton) who happens to be a therapist just like his mother. Note: this movie has convinced me to ask my psychology major daughter to reconsider her future career.
Although all of these issues are dealt with humorously, there is real truth in every situation. Judd talks candidly about his relationship with his father, and when someone says they miss him, he replies, “I missed him when he was alive.” He takes stock of his life, wondering how it all went so wrong and sadly acknowledging, “I’m way too old to have this much nothing.”
The performances are excellent, and Bateman turns Judd into Everyman. We root for him to get out of his rut and find love with his old schoolmate (Rose Byrne) because if there’s hope for him, there’s hope for all of us. He and Fey are a perfect brother and sister duo, and there’s a fantastic scene where she threatens to tell his secret out loud if he won’t. Their bond rings so true and it’s obvious there’s a genuine affection under all that ribbing. “Yours is the voice in my head,” Judd admits to Wendy.
Jane Fonda has never seemed lighter or more playful, despite the constant jokes about her massive breast implants. She proves it’s never too late to go after what you want.
To me, the movie is about celebrating the messiness of life. It’s those complicated relationships and unexpected moments that, ultimately, make it worth living.
But go see it for yourself. This is where I leave you.
Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.