The story of the dysfunctional family is certainly not new. From The Family Stone to Parenthood to Little Miss Sunshine, we’ve seen plenty of examples where insufferable people come together for whatever reason and realize that hey, deep down they really do love each other. We can now add This Is Where I Leave You to that mix, though it may just feature the most insufferable gaggle of idiots yet. Ridiculous but not nearly to the point of being sublime, This Is Where I Leave You is a picture-perfect example of squandering talent in an attempt for laughs, which never come.
Jonathan Tropper’s screenplay, based on his own book, is a slap-dash, almost obscenely uneven collection of moments, each of which seems like it’s only trying to outdo the one that came before it. The result is an unfunny mess riddled with things so far-fetched you’ll wonder why most of these people have never been arrested.
When the Altman siblings come back home to bury their father, the overbearing matriarch Hillary (Jane Fonda) forces them to spend a week sitting shiva, ostensibly to put their differences aside and reunite as a loving family. But the siblings include man-boy Phillip (Adam Driver), short-fused Paul (Corey Stoll), comparatively normal Wendy (Tina Fey), and Judd (Jason Bateman), who just discovered that his wife has been shtupping his boss for the past year. The amount of baggage that each dolt brings to the festivities is enough to keep Samsonite afloat for an entire year. (Ba-dum-dum!)
I’m sure the thought process here involved some sort of idea that we would feel bad for these people, maybe find some humor in what they’re going through, and ultimately feel some comfort in the fact that they wrap everything up with hugs and smiles—that is, if you can make it through even an hour without wanting to throw a shoe at the screen. But no such luck—each and every character is so intensely unlikable that the only comfort you’ll take from this is that even on your worst day, you’re better than them. Heck, even your crotchety old neighbor who never hands out candy on Halloween is a treat compared to these twits.
The cast, which also includes Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, and Dax Shepard, is as top-notch a collection of talent that you’ll see on screen this year. But that fact just makes the end result even more disappointing. And while many of them try valiantly to rise above the muck, particularly Fey, Bateman, and Byrne, when your script includes a running joke about how the town rabbi’s nickname is Boner, well… you can only do so much. And then add to that the scene when Fonda describes her late husband’s penis in great detail (and I mean great detail) and, oh yes, the bit when the family hears (via baby monitor) Paul and his wife, um, emphatically trying to procreate upstairs, and then decides that the proper course of action is to continue listening. Oy vey.
And that’s all before we come to the out-of-nowhere, last-ten-minutes “twist”, which will strip away any final hope you may have that this thing can be saved.
Hopefully this constellation of stars can pool their talents someday on something worthwhile, but in the meantime we’re left with not much but a jumbled wreck and thoughts of what could have been.