This is Where I Leave You is a dark-humored drama, centering on the eccentric and dysfunctional Altman family who have all gathered to sit Shiva for a week after their father passes away. The cast is filled to the brim with big-name stars in the comedy world, which sets the bar pretty high. Ultimately, though, it’s not enough to carry the film past being just another slightly amusing dramedy with a great ensemble cast. It’s not that Where I Leave You is a disaster—it’s actually pretty funny at times and is filled with a surprising amount of touching moments. The issue with the film, really, is that it never fully commits to its comedic moments or dramatic moments, leaving it in a bit of a bland, forgettable middle ground.
The film’s biggest success is easily Adam Driver’s performance as one of the younger sons, Phillip. His character is not anything new for him—he has the unpredictable personality and high-energy found in his character on Girls and his recent performance in the rom-com What If (2014), but he seems to go further and deeper with this role. Given the space of a feature length film and main part, he really shines and rightfully steals the show. Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, and Tina Fey are among the other co-stars, and though they all give decent performances, every one of them pale in comparison. Especially Fey, who seems to be branching out with her role as a depressed, privileged wife who married the wrong guy, but she fails to carry the weight of the part. In all fairness, her storyline is not one that is particularly interesting, but she’s unable to transcend the two-dimensional character laid out for her.
The film is based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel, and Tropper himself also wrote the screenplay. It would seem that this ends up hurting the film’s story, as perhaps Tropper was too close to the material. The characters, largely speaking, experience obvious and predictable arcs, and some, like Byrne, seem to only be there to act as a foil. Once Bateman makes the decision that he needs to stop playing it safe and take the road less traveled, Byrne is sloppily and all-too-conveniently worked out of the story. Although it’s refreshing to have a film like this end without too neatly wrapping up and having everyone end up happy, it’s just not enough to give substance to this film that seems to be trying way too hard.
This is Where I Leave You opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.