Friday, September 12, 2014

TIFF 2014: This is where I leave you

Sibs and mom: Fey, Stoll, Fonda, Bateman, Driver
This is where I leave you (U.S., 2014) directed by Shawn Levy, 103 minutes, VISA Screening Room at Elgin Theatre, 2.30p

Hard to resist this cast and the title of this film ... Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Rose Byrne, but I'll give it a try. I appreciated seeing lighter fare after a fairly intense week of movie-viewing.

The film is based on the book by the same name by Jonathan Tropper. The Altman family is gathered by their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) after the death of the father. Mom says dad's last wish was that they sit shiva for their dad. In the Jewish faith, family members traditionally gather in the home of the deceased for seven days and receive visitors. Dad was an atheist but of Jewish descent. Unfortunately, all four siblings appear to be experiencing various midlife crises simultaneously.

The second eldest son Judd (Jason Bateman) caught his wife in bed with his boss; Wendy's (Tina Fey) husband is a type A workaholic who is disconnected from family life and his two children (and she is still in love with the small town boy Horry whom she left behind after a near fatal car accident); Phillip, the ubiquitous Adam Driver, is an infantile, loud mouthed serial womanizer who lacks a filter; and, Paul (Corey Stoll), who is bequeathed the family business as the eldest, is over-worked and perennially irritated perhaps most of all because he is trying to impregnate his frustrated and unhappy wife (Kathryn Hahn).

Some elements are fresh and/or poignant such as the goofy rabbi (Ben Schwartz) and former childhood friend of the Altmans whose nickname is Boner or that Wendy does not leave her husband for Horry (Timothy Olyphant) despite her obvious unhappiness.

It's hard to dislike Jason Bateman no matter what he does on film or TV - his manner is always winning even when he is playing the sad sack cuckold here. Or Tina Fey, who is appealing even when (especially when) she's cold-cocking a bully who is tormenting her brother.

The actors are talented enough and the circumstances quirky enough that we don't need the superfluous corny and cliched plot points - from the Wendy's little boy constantly taking a crap in front of the family on his potty to the late revelation of the mother's hidden love affair at the end of the film while Paul and Judd are having a fist fight on the family lawn in front of guests.

The writing is good, the actors are great ... we don't need the multiple infidelities and exaggerated sibling rivalry to enhance the plot.

The film succeeds when the filmmaker slows down and allows moments of real intimacy - Judd tenderly remembering his father consoling him after an accident; Wendy re-connecting with Horry who has never recovered from a brain injury; Philip's fiancee (a woman of a certain age) realizing that the relationship won't work; Judd telling Penny (Rose Byrne), an old flame he left behind in their hometown, that he likes her because she's a little strange.

Trust the audience more and slow down the action. We're big boys and girls; we can take it. 

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