Shawn Levy brings together a vibrant and brilliant ensemble cast in This Is Where I Leave You, which screened at TIFF this year. I don’t know what it is about family dramas or comedies, but I have a soft spot for them. Family dynamics of all kinds intrigue me. Not all family based films are good, but there are a few gems that I often go back to. I know that Hollywood has a tendency of portraying extremely well to do families in films like Father of the Bride (1991) that do not reflect the viewers own lives, but in some films, good films, if you overlook this augmented reality you can find authenticity there. This Is Where I Leave You is a family drama/comedy that falls into the above category.
After the death of their father the four Altman siblings and their families are forced to sit shiva for a week in their childhood home at their fathers final request. Having all Altman children home at the same time is not an easy task but their blunt, open book shrink mother, played by Jane Fonda, is delighted to have them. Reluctant and each struggling with their own personal dilemmas the Altmans are forced to deal with their issues, often in front of other friends and family offering condolences, and come together as a family.
With a large cast I must narrow down my comments on the performances. I suppose I should mention Jane Fonda because it is Jane Fonda. I don’t think there was anything distinct I could say about her performance as the matriarch of the family. Fonda played her as expected and that is totally fine with me. Levy hit the nail on the head when he picked her for the part. The performances that stand out for me in this ensemble cast are Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Adam Driver. Bateman plays Judd, the middle brother who is undergoing an midlife crisis after catching his wife sleeping with his former boss. Bateman has done the guy in a midlife crisis before, but his portrayal is often a bit deadpan. With this performance, Bateman gives a more complex character, who along with coming to terms with the end of his marriage, finds it hard to truly mourn his father. I adored Tina Fey in the role of Wendy, the strong, sympathetic, and protective sister to her three brothers. She and Bateman have great chemistry as the middle children, can understand each other more than anyone else in the family. Fey is engaging and accessible while still being really funny. Adam Driver’s performance as the youngest brother, Phillip, surprised me the most. He was endearing and displays great comedic timing throughout the film.
Levy has brought together a great cast that play off each other very well. The comedy is clever, dry, and at times sarcastic. The dialogue is natural, never forced, and realistic. It is akin to conversations you or I would have with our own families at Thanksgiving or even at a funeral. Life isn’t always drama, and humour can be found in even the saddest moments or situations in our lives. Levy brings forward a human story that is both touching and comical.