'This Is Where I Leave You' review: Tired dramedy with forced drama, few laughs
Not even this ensemble cast of comedy heavy weights manages to extract many laughs or drama in yet another tired dysfunctional family 'dramedy.'
In short: Four adult siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) join their widowed mother (Jane Fonda) for a week of sitting Shiva in their childhood home. (Watch the trailer)
It's immediately obvious this bloated movie is adapted from a book - the tell: "This Is Where I Leave You" features so many disparate story threads which are quickly established, treated as shallow character arcs and/or ultimately neglected. One son's marriage is falling apart (Bateman), the 'baby' of the family is dating a successful woman far too old for him (Driver), the sole daughter is ... 'responsible'? (Fey) and a stern sibling must take on the family business (Stroll). Focusing on anyone one of these narratives might been an enjoyable, rich film - however, 'Where I Leave You' instead opts to try telling these four wholly separate stories together in a failed, unfocused effort that never does any character justice.
The army of one-dimensional supporting characters doesn't help. There's the sister-in-law whose whole arc is trying to get pregnant. A tragically underutilized Timothy Olyphant plays the neighbor guy with a brain injury. The adorable Rose Byrne is reduced to a hometown ex-girlfriend. And Dax Shepard plays a douchey shock-jock radio host with absolutely zero dimension.
Despite a main cast headlined by the stars of "Arrested Development" and "30 Rock," the fact that "Where I Leave You" isn't funny could almost be forgiven (not every movies starring comedy actors is a comedy) ... except that the humor it obviously attempts is sad and utterly witless. There's a running gag about Fonda's character loving her over-the-top boob job and enthusiastically talking about her golden years sex life. A pot-smoking scene includes an obligatory joke about the munchies and the 'tightly-wound-up guy' does a silly dance. Oh, and when in doubt, trot out the toddler dragging around his trainer potty - because poop humor is just cutting edge material after all.
OK, so "Where I Leave You" isn't a comedic powerhouse - but its attempts at drama are also fumbled and just poorly executed as well. At one point Bateman's character is directly told that he doesn't "do complicated" -- which, of course, becomes his dramatic conflict. (A type of "storytelling" that borders on insulting.) The storyline for Fey's character is unclear at best: she's the 'responsible' daughter with a d-bag for a husband (movie rule: when a character is always on a cell phone, that character isalways a d-bag) and has a history with Olyphant's character. Stoll's ever-glowering family son really just has two important scenes that relate the family retail business - otherwise, he's just the no-nonsense brother. And Adam Driver's character is just a flakey womanizer who can barely take care of himself - which is OK, except he has no narrative - he's just a man-child.
Finally, the plot twists/turns/reveals are tortuously forced into the narrative to the point of feeling completely out-of-left field. At several points throughout the story, major 'shocking' bombshells are dropped on main characters - seemingly out of the clear blue sky. There's little to set-up or justify most of these plot points - they are simply justifications for the main characters to make poor choices.
Final verdict: The letdown of this unfunny and undramatic comedy-drama is only punctuated by its staggering waste of such a talented ensemble cast of comedic actors. "This is Where I Leave You" is not unwatchable or horrifically bad - but it's instantly unforgettable and unremarkable.
"This Is Where I Leave You" opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 19 and is rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use.