Shawn Levy, director of Night at the Museum (2006) and Date Night (2010), takes a break from his usual comedy-heavy fare to direct the sparse family drama This Is Where I Leave You(2014). After catching his wife in bed with his boss, radio producer Judd Atlman (Jason Bateman) sinks into a hazy depression, only for it to be exacerbated by the unexpected news of his father’s death. Upon venturing back to his childhood home for the funeral, Judd is forced to reconnect with his mother Hillary (Jane Fonda), and each of his three siblings – Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) – who are all experiencing some form of disruption in their own lives.
As the days wear on and tempers flare, Judd starts to soften once it becomes clear his family may well be the people he needs to point his life in the right direction. With an ensemble cast to envy, This Is Where I Leave You proves to be a mildly engaging distraction, thanks primarily to the combined skills of its actors. Bateman anchors the film with his natural sympathetic charm, whilst Fey and Driver utilise their expertise as comedy performers to resuscitate the film’s uninspiring script, peppering the action with some much needed moments of dark comedy and elevating Levy’s latest from middle-of-the road obscurity. Fey plays particularly well against the type of roles she’s usually offered, making the most of the film’s more intimate moments to display a far broader range than we’re used to.
Author-turned-screenwriter Jonathan Trupper’s script (adapted from his own novel) benefits from it’s fleeting fits of comedy and the charisma of its cast, yet sadly lacks bite in the drama department. A cavalcade of problems, fears and out-of-the-blue declarations are thrown at the audience, not many of which are wholly believable. The obstacles that do have a ring of authenticity to them are often skimmed over or resolved all too quickly, usually in a mawkish manner (further dulled by Levy’s dim, lifeless direction). It certainly doesn’t help that there’s so many characters either, bloating the film’s already neutered drama. Whilst the core cast are bestowed with a semblance of agency – some more than others – their spouses are left flailing somewhere in the periphery, only to emerge when the script necessitates it. This isn’t to say that This Is Where I Leave You is entirely terrible; it’s not. However, the fact that Levy’s latest is only best described as an easy watch with a few neat touches does this innocuous comedy few favours.