Emotional entanglements of a dysfunctional family provide the humour and pathos in Shawn Levy’s touching comedy of shared history and heartache.
Screenwriter Jonathan Tropper adapts his own bestselling novel, stitching together an entire year’s worth of TV soap opera plot threads into a freewheeling narrative that spreads joy and misery evenly among the underwritten characters.
Revelations come ridiculously thick and fast, requiring ever greater suspensions of disbelief, to the point that we wouldn’t be surprised if one of the central clan was unmasked as an extra-terrestrial doppelganger.
Thankfully, Tropper peppers his script with sparkling one-liners and the ensemble cast flings these verbal grenades with devastating precision, cajoling us to laughter even when Shawn Levy’s film plumbs the murky depths of toilet humour.
New York radio producer Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) arrives home with a cake for his wife (Abigail Spencer) and discovers the birthday girl in bed with his obnoxious boss (Dax Shepard).
Shortly afterwards, a shell-shocked Judd receives a telephone call to inform him that his father has died.
He returns home to the surgically enhanced bosom of his mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) and siblings Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll).
It transpires that before the old man shuffled off his mortal coil, he stipulated that the Altmans should spend a week together in grief and reminiscence.
“For the next seven days you are all my children again,” Hilary informs her brood, “and you are all grounded.”
While Judd conceals his marital woes from mommie dearest, Wendy wonders if she made a mistake marrying her husband (Aaron Lazar) when she still loves a hunky neighbour (Timothy Olyphant), Paul clashes with his wife (Kathryn Hahn) about their inability to conceive and Phillip struggles to behave like an adult in front of his new partner (Connie Britton).
Skeletons rattle out of the closet and Judd seeks solace with hometown gal Penny (Rose Byrne), who has always carried a torch for him.
This Is Where I Leave You fizzes pleasantly on the tongue despite screenwriter Tropper’s detours from plausibility, his occasional mawkishness and the broad strokes of his character development.
Bateman mopes around like a rain-sodden puppy to curry our sympathy, while Fey injects some of her usual spark and wit.
Fonda has a ball as the potty-mouthed, imperious matriarch, who dispenses deep truths in one breath (“Secrets are a cancer to a family”) and toe-curling confidences about her sex life with her late husband in the next (“We made love on our first date. I don’t mind telling you, the man was hung!”)
Her comic whirlwind threatens to blow everyone else off screen and Fonda relishes the film’s only plot twist you don’t see coming. It’s a humdinger.
Home, bittersweet home.