Friday, September 19, 2014

Funny, bittersweet ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ features talented cast

By Steve Crum
Although this is a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family gathering in homage to the departed patriarch, the likable and very smart This Is Where I Leave You is not another screaming, cursing, hair-pulling, non-comedic August: Osage County. Thank goodness. Granted there is some yelling, f-bombing and punching, but in the final count, This is a comedy overall. Jane Fonda’s participation as the matriarch might hint at an On Golden Pond spin. Again, This is Where I Leave You is not that either, despite revealing moments of tenderness and family love.
Then what is This? What we have is a talent graced adult comedy with the premise of a funeral reuniting everyone back to the family home. Previous comedies have used a funeral as the plot crux. Both the 2007 and 2010 versions of Death at a Funeral come to mind. In This case, the Altman Family happens to be Jewish, so widow Hillary Altman, played by a buxom-enhanced Jane Fonda, demands that her far less than orthodox Jewish children honor their father’s final request by observing Shiva. Mama Hillary insists, “I want all my kids under one roof again!”
The tradition involves periods of meditative reflection while living together for seven days. That means no work and no play. Reluctantly the clan agrees, but end up using cell phones to connect with work. They also sneak out of the house to drink and socialize downtown and elsewhere. All the sneaking in and out constitute much of the laughs…and some drama, by the way. In addition to the four grown siblings, their significant others are part of the mix. 
Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) takes Jonathan Tropper’s crisp screenplay (based on his book) and finely paces the principals through a maze of funny sequences while balancing the dramatics surrounding new and old relationships. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has just broken up with his wife over her infidelity; Tina Fey’s Wendy is a long married mom whose husband is increasingly distant; and Adam Driver’s Phillip, the youngest of the bunch, has brought his latest girlfriend  along. They have their problems too. Then there is Paul (Corey Stoll), married to the depressed Alice (Kathryn Hahn). Both are obsessed with getting pregnant since so far—for years—that has not happened. 
Put them all together and they spell Mom…and it turns out she has her own family secret. By the way, Hillary is a psychologist who has written a best selling guide to raising children. As the movie progresses, that irony increases. 
This Is Where I Leave You is a funny, bittersweet dramedy that connects, in large part due to a superb cast. This is Tina Fey’s best work to date, particularly because it taps into her dramatic talents. Jason Bateman is really the center of the story, and anchors it well. Driver is a gifted young actor who continues to impress. Stoll and Hahn are fine too. 
Worthy of praise are Ben Schwartz as “Boner,” the family’s young and frequently immature rabbi, Timothy Olyphant as a brain damaged neighbor, and Rose Byrne as Phillip’s high school girlfriend. 
Incidentally, several laughs are attained through Fonda’s boobs, which were artfully enlarged for the movie. Those crazy special effects guys.
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GRADE on an A-F scale: A-

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