This Is Where I Leave You

Upon seeing the trailer for This is Where I Leave You, I found myself having flashbacks to Eulogy. A death in the family brings everyone together, during which they’ll fight, learn from each other, and grow? Sounds just like Eulogy. Well, it kind of is. It even has the same person dying (an elderly father) and a (requisite?) lesbian couple. But there’s one key difference. In this film, most of the drama comes from relationships they have outside of the family, not within it. It’s not sibling fighting sibling; it’s sibling whining about his or her partner not being the greatest.

And it usually does feel like whining, by the way. So much of this movie falls into “oh woe is me” territory. It’s just whining and whining and whining, and then a dirty joke, followed by more whining. Eventually this all leads to revelations about how one should live his or her life, and how life is messy and complicated and stuff, but this isn’t new material, and it certainly doesn’t make for a very enjoyable watch. It feels like a slog, even though This is Where I Leave You only runs for just over 100 minutes.

If we have a lead, it’s Judd (Jason Batemen), who opens the film on a happy day — it’s his wife’s (Abigail Spencer) birthday — and turns into a very upsetting one. He comes home early to find her cheating on him, with his boss (Dax Shepard), and learns this is something that has been happening for a year. A short time later, his sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), calls him. Their father has passed away. Everyone’s coming home for the funeral.

Back at home in a small town, we meet mother (Jane Fonda), who tells the children that their father had one dying wish: they are going to sit Shiva. No, the family wasn’t particularly Jewish. No matter, they’re all going to be in the house for seven days. There are two more siblings: Phillip (Adam Driver), the family screw-up, and Paul (Corey Stoll), who is responsible for the family business. Everyone has a romantic interest — except Judd, who left his at home — but despite many of the conversations being about them, they’re less important than you’d expect.

Basically all that This is Where I Leave You has to offer is conversations. Judd is the simple one who doesn’t know what to do, Wendy is a new mother whose husband is more focused on business than her, Phillip is engaged to be engaged to an older and wealthier woman, and Paul is struggling to have a baby with his wife. Sometimes these all lead to fights between the children, but mostly they sit around, look sad, and do very little with themselves.

It’s not enjoyable. It’s not emotionally affecting. It’s not new. It’s not revelatory. There’s very little in this film that can teach you in any way, shape, or form. And if it can’t do that, it needs to make you laugh. Most of the jokes that come from this film are of the raunchy variety, which might seem surprising given the less-than-happy subject matter at hand. I mean, one of the biggest recurring jokes is that the mother character recently had breast augmentation surgery, and that’s kind of unnerving to the children. Did you laugh there? No? Then you won’t laugh during the movie, either.

To be fair, some of the jokes work, but they’re from smaller moments. Watching a group of frat boys flip over a car is a lot funnier in context than you’d think. A character played by Timothy Olyphant is usually good for a laugh. There are some clever moments, but they don’t come from the film’s attempts at raunchy comedy. Some people can’t do that type of comedy — even if it looks easier — and it seems like that was the case here.

A talented cast like this one really needed better material. Everyone is good at playing their characters, one-noted as they are. But they don’t get much to do outside of complain about their life and eventually realize that, hey, they could fix that if they wanted to. These are funny people, but this isn’t the strongest movie that any of them have made. Their careers will all survive, but I don’t think many clips from this film are going to make many “best of” compilations.

This is Where I Leave You is a whiny movie about people and their relationship troubles with solutions so easy that it’s impossible to become invested in the material. It’s not funny enough to keep you engaged after you realize that you’re not going to gain anything from its plot or characters, and it drags from there. This is not a long movie but it certainly feels like one. A cast this talented and funny deserved a better screenplay. I can’t recommend This is Where I Leave You.

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