"This Is Where I Leave You" boasts an incredible ensemble cast, including Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Dax Shepard, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Debra Monk and Abigail Spencer.
Bateman, Fey, Stoll and Driver play the Altman siblings, with Bateman, as Judd Altman, serving as the film’s chief protagonist. When we first meet Judd, he’s a producer for a popular syndicated radio show hosted by Wade Beaufort (Shepard). Judd loves his wife, Quinn (Spencer), and even rushes home early from work to surprise her with a cake for her birthday -- only to walk in on his wife and his boss in bed together.
Three months later, we find an unemployed, bearded Judd sleeping on a couch in a small, messy apartment when the phone rings. It’s his sister, Wendy (Fey), standing in a hospital room, delivering the news that that their father just died.
The elder Altman’s dying wish is that the kids come home to sit shiva, the Jewish tradition of mourning the dead, even though dad was an atheist. The humor gleaned from this moment is a proper setup for things to come.
The Altman siblings don’t hang out. They don’t even particularly like each other, and the person they like even less is their mother, Hillary (Fonda), a psychologist and famous author whose most popular book is about child rearing. The fact that the book uses embarrassing anecdotes about her four kids has haunted the Altman children throughout their lives. Hillary is a force of nature, with a matter-of-fact attitude about life and a very noticeable boob job, a visual joke that endows several scenes with ample humor.
Judd’s certainly got personal problems, but his siblings aren’t exactly sailing through life either. Wendy’s husband cares more about his job than he does about her or their kids; Paul (Stoll) and his wife Alice have been trying to have kids for years, and it’s taking a toll on their marriage; and Phillip (Driver) suffers from arrested development and struggles to stay faithful to his much older, more intelligent girlfriend, Tracy (Britton). Returning to their hometown, in the house in which they grew up in, forces all of them to revisit past emotions and conflicts none of them seem ready to confront.
Two of the movie's best performances come from supporting players Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant. Byrne is sweet and unforgettable as Penny, the goofy and adorable girl who loved Judd in high school but never left town. Olyphant is barely recognizable as Horry, Wendy’s ex-boyfriend and neighbor who suffered a relationship-ending brain injury. Olyphant’s quiet, brief on-screen moments are some of the movie’s strongest.
"With This Is Where I Leave You," director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," "Cheaper by the Dozen") delivers his funniest film, and his most poignant. Like a great coach or manager, he plays to all of his actor’s strengths, turning the most subtle moments into powerful subtext and in some cases, punchlines without the dialogue. It’s an enormous cast, yet not one actor is wasted.
Jonathan Tropper, who adapted the screenplay from his novel, dresses up sentimental and somewhat manipulative moments with hilarious, concise and relatable dialogue. He also piles on the drama a bit, negating some of This Is Where I Leave You’s organic appeal. But as this film certainly shows us, nobody’s perfect.