By Jake Howell

The Torontonian reviews This Is Where I Leave You

Like a middling episode of House-Arrested Development, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You—adapted from the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name—is a dysfunctional family dramedy lacking in laughs and an emotional punch to really bring it home. The film gets by on its likable cast, but the fact that this film merely passes despite such a talented crop of comedic talent should speak to a general failure, or at least a sense of disappointment.

Starring as Judd Altman (the surname not a nod to the iconoclast director), Jason Bateman here more or less reprises earlier iterations of Michael Bluth, the straight-man glue that holds his clan together. He’s been good at this character for years, and while I’m beginning to think he’s now typecast as such, Bateman’s focal point leads are usually strong. This film is no exception.

But this is an ensemble comedy, so acting beside Bateman are Tina Fey (sister), Adam Driver, Corey Stoll (brothers), Jane Fonda (mother), Rose Byrne, and Timothy Olyphant (external love interests). Following the death of their father, the Altman family is finally reunited under the same roof to sit Shiva, a seven-day ordeal that raises tensions and blood pressures for everyone involved. It’s an inoffensive premise that you’ve seen before and will continue to see again.

There are a few other actors here (Kathryn Hahn plays Stoll’s flighty wife), but in terms of talent squandered, there’s no flaw more glaring than underwriting a Tina Fey character. Fey’s turn in This Is Where I Leave You as a grinning alcoholic is, sorry to say, lamentably dull. Ben Schwartz steals what little show there is as “Boner,” the hip-with-it rabbi who despises his nickname the Altmans gave him in the past. It’s fun to see Jane Fonda’s matriarch get some laughs with her new “bionic” breast implants, but it’s a bit juvenile and attributes to the film’s overall tonal unevenness. Case in point: to relieve its half-hearted attempt at tackling serious family drama, this is a film where a running joke includes a toddler who loves to carry his potty around in the darnedest places and most inopportune times.

The kernels of sadder, more depressing family problems are all here—pecking-order in-fighting, the inability to have children, alcoholism, superiority complexes—but they’re all tinged with a wink and tongue-in-cheek asides, so it’s hard to really feel compelled to care. It’s odd, because this film isn’t funny but it’s not dreadfully unfunny, so we’re left in this shrug-worthy state of: yup, it’s harmless and watchable, which is true of many Shawn Levy films.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon