Sunday, September 21, 2014

This is Where I Leave You (2014)

Film: This is Where I Leave You (2014)
Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton
Director: Shawn Levy
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

I don't care for Jason Bateman.  There, I've said, and I am not taking it back.  I watched a couple of episodes of Arrested Development in college, so I don't have that to call back on when I have so many terrible movies thrown at me.  He was awful in The Switch (or The Change-Up...whichever one had Ryan Reynolds...why do his films have such generic, interchangeable titles?), he was the least interesting character in Horrible Bosses-I'm just not that into him.

That being said, the rest of this cast reads like a dream, so I was torn about this movie.  I mean-Fey, Driver, Byrne, Stoll, Hahn, Fonda, and Britton?  Yes please!  It reads like a list of actors that I either am totally in love with or on my way, so even with the middling reviews and the middling leading man, this film had too much curiosity factor to ignore.  And I have to say, I don't quite get the hatred-while certainly not perfect, there was a lot to offer from this movie.

(Spoilers Ahead) Bateman's Judd is a man lost in horrible mid-life crisis cliches.  His wife cheated on him with his boss, so he's out both a job and a spouse, and to make matters worse, his dad just died, and he's not sure how he feels about it.  He and his three siblings: Wendy (Fey), Phillip (Driver) and Paul (Stoll) all have to sit shiva for seven days after their father's passing, meaning that a family that has long had tangential relationships with each other all need to watch their lives (and their baggage) unfold in close proximity to each other.

The really interesting thing about this movie is how much it is a throwback to films from the 1980's, where we would have large, expansive family dramas that added up to a series of different chemistry pairings between a myriad of actors.  In this era of superhero films and not knowing the difference between a straight comedy and a straight drama onscreen (though oddly that combination has been perfected on television), it's nice to see a director having mastered that onscreen.  Of course, it helps that he cast all actors who have been a regular character on a recent television series, since they all know the cadences associated with creating chemistry with everyone on the show.

Picking an MVP in the cast is easy, of course.  Anyone who has seen the trailers knows that Adam Driver was going to be something to behold onscreen, and they were right.  Driver is electric the moment that he comes onscreen, screaming shit in the middle of a psalm because he is late to his own father's funeral, pays no attention to anyone as he proclaims "mommy!" while hugging Fonda and then trying to grab the rabbi's testicles (it sounds weird, but works in the moment).  Driver has sort of upstaged Lena Dunham in the ensuing years of Girls, becoming a young Daniel Day-Lewis in its cast-fascinatingly sexy, intensely watchable, and irresistible to the camera.  If he hasn't become one already, he's on track to be a major movie star and I would be stunned if he doesn't have both an Oscar nomination and a Vanity Fair cover in the next few years.

The rest of the cast is strong too, though.  I'd like for Fonda to get something a bit meatier, but this is someone who pulled off one of the great family dramas of the 1980's, so she knows how to keep things interesting onscreen (and not be reduced by the frequent jokes about her breast augmentation).  Corey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn provide oddly strong layers to a side couple who are desperately trying to have a baby, which is slowly ruining their marriage (and while Stoll adds layers to everything he does, can someone give the very talented Hahn the chance to do the same more often?).  And Fey is heartbreaking as a woman who is lost in her own suburban dream-married to a rich and successful man who has no time for her, she pines for the days of loving a man she wanted when she was twenty but couldn't have.  To be frank, I don't know why we were centered on Judd rather than Wendy this entire movie-he was probably the least interesting and most routine of all of the characters we were encountering.  Had we made this film about Wendy or Paul, I think we could have made this a five-star film, but Bateman is for some reason a bigger star than the rest of the cast, so we simply have a very good movie (I know it's based on a book, but admit it-he's the Altman sibling you were least interested in by the end).

Overall, though, the critics were wrong on this film-it's a great family dramedy: a little bit of laughs, a little bit of heart, a little bit of the bitter-the sort of film you catch on cable and wonder why they don't make them anymore.  Except they just did.  So see it.

And if you did, share your thoughts below-am I the only person not in the Bateman camp?  Is everyone else intensely in love with Adam Driver?  Are we all wishing that Tina Fey or Jane Fonda would get another great acting showcase?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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