Monday, October 13, 2014

"This is Where I Leave You" is what they titled this movie

by Kelsey Barritt (with Germar Derron)      

Often a movie with an open ending ends well, but This is Where I Leave You leaves audiences with more questions than answers. The "dramedy" starring Jason Bateman and directed by Shawn Levy is more of a guessing game than it is a movie. The film throws the audience amidst a family facing the death of a cherished father. Together, they sit Shiva for seven days as a way of mourning. A family reunited for one week, in the same house, leads to issues and discoveries. The tragedy hits Judd Altman (Bateman) the hardest, because he was already plagued by emotional mayhem. He is separated from a wife, who cheated on him with his egotistical boss. Then, he’s forced to wrap his head around his father’s passing. Further, countless side stories get lost in the mess that is this movie.

The sibling dynamic here, is the classic one. There is the oldest, uptight brother Paul (Stoll), levelheaded and compassionate Wendy (Fey), and the youngest, free-spirited Phillip (Driver). These characters are instantly and easily relatable. Their modern mother Hillary (Fonda) ordered them to stick together under the same roof. There, the siblings learn about life and each other. They reveal jaw-dropping secrets and trust their long lost family with them. These “adult” siblings bicker, revert back to childhood habits together, and fearfully obey their strong-willed mother. Somehow, this arouses a sense of reluctant empathy in viewers. The never-ending support of a family is a constant yet refreshing theme. 

Some supporting characters bring charm to the table, especially the beautifully strange Penny (Byrne), a love interest whose arbitrary attitude could make anyone smile. She is a breath of fresh air in a movie that is dank with negativity. Others, like Paul, just occupy time that should be spent elsewhere; it was a turn off. Paul worries–a lot—and he’s abrasive.

The family moans and complains for the duration of the movie; it’s tough on the ears. Sure, they deal with death, divorce, loveless marriages, and general angst, but . . . . Moviegoers know this is a somewhat sad movie. But, the amount of whining and immature bellyaching surprised me. These characters enter their childhood home and become babies again.

This is Where I Leave You shaves just deep enough to remove the very first outer layer of each character. Viewers crave more insight into their compelling lives, but get nothing. Wendy’s complicated, heart-wrenching tidbit of a story gives audiences goose bumps, but not satisfaction; it feels incomplete. The filmmakers fail to follow up or give the story the true attention it deserves. The audience constantly longs for more, but more never comes. Almost too much is left to interpretation, which is aggravating. The movie does not have the guts to delve into difficult topics, so it just barely grazes the surface.

Here, the opportunities to connect and contemplate are few. The movie is scattered; there’s no place to focus. Endless opportunities for greatness fall short. This could-be witty, lovable, fresh film ends up being a reason to visit Redbox . . . or not.

The movie is not un-watchable. It provides a few laughs and maybe a tear or two. However, if mediocrity disappoints you, and potential alone isn't worth the price of admission, save the money.


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