Monday, 20 October 2014


Roadshow Films/Warners Bros.

Dysfunctional family comedies -- or 'dramadies', depending on the level of drama involved -- have become a dime a dozen since first appearing as a resolutely American indie filmmaking genre in the 1990s in the wake of the Sundance Film Festival, so it requires something special to standout from the pack.

An all-star cast -- Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, and the ubiquitous Adam Driver -- was no doubt intended to be the draw card for Shawn Levy's This Is Where I Leave You, but it proves to be its downfall. Or rather, it is the screenplay -- adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his own book -- which is most at fault for it gives this impressive ensemble very little to do -- thus dashing audience expectations of them -- and even less that is remotely believable.

Upon the news of the death of their patriarch, the Altman siblings return to the family nest to sit Shiva -- seven days of traditional Jewish mourning -- as much to fulfill their lapsed Jewish father's final request as to appease their grief-stricken mother, Hillary (Fonda).

The kidults aren't too pleased to be observing a tradition which they had little time for growing up (the Shiva seats are set-up where the Altman Christmas tree usually resides), nor to be taking time out from their own lives to serve house arrest with their therapist mother who used her children's lives for fodder for her books.

Judd (Bateman) especially has little time for other people's problems given his recent separation from his wife (Abigail Spencer) following the discovery of her year-long affair with the radio shock jock (Dax Shephard) for whom he acts as producer.

But then most of the Altman brood seem to be less than happy with their lot in life: only-daughter Wendy (Fey) has a workaholic husband and a ton of guilt over the former high school boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) permanently injured in a car accident and who conveniently still lives across the street; Paul (Corey Stoll) who now runs the family sporting goods store and is trying desperately to have children with wife, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), who just happens to be a former ex of Judd's.

And then there's the family baby, Phillip (Driver). The carefree, career-swapping n'er-do well who drives a sports car bought for him by his former therapist turned girlfriend, Tracy (Connie Britton); a woman smart enough to know she can do better in the relationship stakes, and who should also have known better than to attend the pity party of her young lover's family.

Throw in Judd's high school sweetheart (Rose Byrne), a shock pregnancy, familial misunderstandings and the smoking of some joints and you have the recipe for a top-notch comedy. Or so you'd think. But the laughs are few and far between in This Is Where I leave You, and not particularly laugh-out-loud. Nor is the drama particularly engaging or affecting.

There are revelations, sibling rivalries reignited and familial bonds reaffirmed, and tears before almost every bed time during the week-long stay under the Altman roof. But there's very little to warrant spending 103-minutes with this family and their first world problems, and even less of it memorable.

Unlike the recent sibling dramedy, The Skeleton Twins, This Is Where I Leave You fails to bring the funny or the pathos so you may not want to rush to RSVP for this family gathering.

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