By LYNN BARKER
Front Row Features Film Critic
“This is Where I Leave You,” a dramedy based on the best-selling Jonathan Tropper novel and directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” “Real Steel”) focuses upon a lightly-practicing Jewish family brought together by the matriarch (Jane Fonda) when her husband and the adult kids’ dad dies.
Pulling zero punches, the brood is a rough-talking, dysfunctional bunch not thrilled to celebrate seven days of mourning inside the house where they grew up. Boasting a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Dax Shepard, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and Timothy Olyphant, the film is hit and miss as it mixes truly poignant moments with gross-out yet hilarious boob and genital jokes. The young family rabbi, who officiates as the group goes through their mourning ritual, is an old family pal. He grew up with the brothers earning the unfortunate nickname “Boner,” and the boys won’t let him forget it.
The siblings are all in life-transition and their dad’s death couldn’t come at a more inconvenient time. Judd (Jason Bateman) has just learned that his wife (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair with his boss (Dax Shepard) and is attracted to childhood sweetie Penny (Rose Byrne). There’s narcissist, playboy baby bro Philip (Adam Driver) who is dating his older shrink (Connie Britton) while playboy-ing around with an old flame. Oldest brother Paul’s (Corey Stoll) marriage is in trouble because his wife (Kathryn Hahn) is determined to have a baby on a schedule. Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is a mom of two with a passionless, good provider hubby she doesn’t love. She still has the hots for childhood, brain-damaged sweetie Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who lives with his mom across the street. Whew!
Director Levy has most often handled fare aimed at younger or family audiences. Perhaps that explains why there aren’t many surprises in the film despite its R-rated freedom.
Just when you think this seven-days-in-the-life movie might get boring, one of the excellent cast members drives a performance home with either an effective one-liner or a tear-wrenching personal revelation that hooks you again. Jane Fonda is no-apologies hilarious at times as her character insists on telling it like it is whether it embarrasses her brood or not. Bottom line: Love is behind all the family mayhem and it is fun to watch these characters work their way to that revelation—one joke and personal crisis at a time. The excellent cast works overtime to make it all happen.