Directed By: Shawn Levy
Written By: Jonathan Tropper
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver
It has been stated that tragedy breeds comedy. If that is the case There is Where I Leave You should be one of the most hilarious movies ever made by human kind. This dramedy follows one of the most dysfunctional families in recent memory as they reunite after the passing of their beloved father. With a script that jams a year worth of Soap Opera plotlines into a one hundred minute movie the opportunity for over wrought drama is rich, and occasionally that opportunity is seized upon with great force. Luckily a strong cast filled with veteran comedic and dramatic talent polishes the blemishes the script and director leave behind.
Jason Bateman is the de facto lead in this ensemble as the down on his luck Judd, He recently caught his wife in bed with his sleazy boss and now is also faced with the death of his father. Bateman brings his typical quick wit and sardonic personality that you would expect. Of course this is nothing new for Bateman but what makes it different are people he is surrounded by, actors who keep up with his remarks and meld well with his comedic sensibility.
Tina Fey is probably the most notable as she plays Batemans’s sister who has her own set of issues as well. Her husband is workaholic self-proclaimed jerk who shows little interest in anyone but himself. That type of character may seem stereotypical and that is very much the case. Much of the framework of this film is built upon taking stereotypical characters you would normally see in similar films and putting them altogether like some sort of melodramatic Avengers. When Timothy Olyphant shows up as a past jilted lover who has suffered brain damage it is evident everything is on the table.
Again what softens the lack of believability for some of these ridiculous plotlines are the actors. Although Tina Fey is more subdued than her normal spunky self she is guaranteed to yield a laugh or two. Jane Fonda works as the hostile mother who loves to overshare. Her persona brings a lot energy to the screen. It is apparent she has entered the part of her career where she is comfortable with whom she is and is willing to say or do anything. Her brash attitude is a lot of fun to witness. Adam Driver also works as the younger brother who just cannot get out of his own way.
Due to the Jewish tradition of Shiva, this non-practicing Jewish family is forced to spend an entire week together. Of course this leads to a number of hijinks including a baby monitor picking up some private intimate moments, brothers fighting in the only way they know how, and some innocent pot smoking that leads to some unexpected consequences. This is not a script built upon originality by any means, but the moments are innocent enough to lead to some humorous encounters. It’s like visiting an old friend you have not seen in a long while who is still relying on the same jokes he told in high school, but he’s so genuine about it you cannot help but join in on the laughter.
There is Where I Leave You biggest struggle is trying to balance its stark comedy and heavy drama. When the film enters into some heady dramatic territory the comedy is seemingly there to balance things out. While that balance is for the most part effective, it undercuts itself so much that anytime it attempts to potent it falls flat. Perhaps this is best summed up in the final moments when a decision made by the Judd character is designed to symbolize some sort of life affirming action, but it only serves as a reminder of everything that was not earned.
Part of me wonders what could have been if There is Where I Leave You was given a better script and a director who was more capable of taking advantage of the talent he had in front of him. Director Shawn Levy knows how to make a movie that will please a crowd. He does not appear to know how to make a great movie that knows how to avoid cliché’. There is Where I Leave You will give you an experience that is overall enjoyable, but also have you wondering if it left too much potential behind.