“This is Where I Leave You” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

On the surface, This is Where I Leave You has all the elements of a solid and quirky independent film. The story is a comedy centered around good old fashioned family drama, and is supported by an all-star ensemble of actors. The film oozes with indie flavor after watching the trailer, and will remind you of the recent critically-acclaimed movie August: Osage County, except much funnier. However, regardless of the former film’s stellar elements, the movie itself never truly takes off and its outstanding cast of actors don’t get to shine as much as they should.

The story begins and focuses on “Judd Altman”, an average guy who shockingly discovers that his wife has been having an affair with his boss. Judd is played by Jason Bateman who continues to show his versatility and is seemingly at home in any project, regardless of the genre. The Arrested Development alum has been having a solid year, he made his directorial debut in the indie film Bad Words, which he also starred in, and is reprising his role in Horrible Bosses 2, the sequel to 2011’s smash R-rated comedy. Getting back to Judd, before he has any time to process his wife’s infidelity, he gets the untimely news from his sister “Wendy” that his ailing father has finally passed away, forcing Judd to pack his bags and head home to be with his family.

When Judd gets home, we meet the other members of the Altman clan. Wendy is played by Tina Fey, and rounding out the Altman siblings are “Paul” and “Phillip”, played by Corey Stoll and Adam Driver, respectively. The matriarch of the family is “Hillary Altman”, played by acting veteran Jane Fonda. Naturally, each member of the Altman family have their own set of issues–Wendy is constantly bickering with her husband while secretly pining for her high school sweetheart, “Horry”; Paul, the oldest sibling, is struggling to have a baby with his wife while managing the family’s hardware store; while the youngest sibling, Phillip, is ever the immature adult, and even though he brings home his significantly older new girlfriend (who happens to be his former therapist), he continues to sneak behind her back and sleeps with any woman who will have him; and then there’s Judd, who is still dealing with his unfaithful and soon-to-be ex wife. Of course we can’t forget about Fonda’s Hilary, who seems to be the most put together despite having just lost her husband, who also happened to be extremely well-endowed, a fact that she readily shares with everyone.

Once the family is all together, Hilary makes an announcement–per their father’s dying wish, he would like everyone to “sit shiva”, a Jewish funeral custom that requires the family to stay together and mourn their loss for seven straight days. The interesting quirk here is that the Altmans aren’t even Jewish . . . none of them . . . not even converted. So, this is a strange request on the part of their late father, which we eventually discover is part of a larger scheme. Because of their now-forced confinement, the Altmans naturally learn of each other’s secrets and problems, and come to support each other to the best of their abilities. Since most of the Altmans have issues with people outside the nuclear family, the supporting cast here is equally impressive, since they have to go toe-to-toe with the leads. Judd’s estranged wife “Quinn” is played by Abigail Spencer, while Dax Shepard plays his bro-tastic boss, “Wade.” Further complicating things for Judd is “Penny”, an old acquaintance of Judd’s–the “one that got away” from him. Penny is played by Rose Byrne, who, like Bateman, excels in both drama and comedy. Byrne has also been having a fantastic year and the Aussie Damages alum is practically in every other movie that hits the big screen these days. She’s part of the wildly successful Insidious horror franchise, and was highly praised for her hilarious role in this summer’s blockbuster comedy Neighbors playing Seth Rogan’s wife opposite Zac Efron. She’s next appears in Annie, the filmic reboot of the iconic Broadway show/movie opposite Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Quvenzhane Wallis.

The other Altmans have their hands equally full. Wendy’s Horry is played by Justified superstar Timothy Olyphant, who, despite his recent work in drama, is great when it comes to comedy and is always fun to watch on screen. Olyphant had a brief but memorable stint as a possible love interest to Mindy Kaling on her hit comedy The Mindy Project. Phillip’s older girlfriend is played by Friday Night Lights alum Connie Britton, who seems to be making good use of her off time from ABC’s hit series Nashville–doing great parts in films like This is Where I Leave You, and 2013’s The To Do List. Finally, Paul’s wife “Alice” is played by Kathryn Hahn, and she is desperate for a baby. So desperate that she even turns to Bateman’s Judd (who her character used to date) to have sex with her . . . which has awkwardly amusing results. This is even more amusing when you consider the fact that Hahn also starred opposite Bateman earlier this year in the film Bad Words, which happened to be Bateman’s directorial debut. Hahn also played a sexually flawed character in that film, making her scenes with Judd in This is Where I Leave You all the more amusing.

Although the film clearly has a stellar cast of actors, I begrudgingly have to admit that the story never really takes off from its initial premise. Yes, the Altmans discover each other’s secrets and have their fair share of conflict and resolution, but nothing is really particularly gripping or memorable. This is in no way the cast’s fault, and everyone puts in solid performances, especially given the constraints of the narrative elements. Bateman’s Judd has some tender moments, especially at the end of the film, while Fonda delights in every scene she’s in, and it really is fun to watch her boss all her children around while putting on a brave face at the same time. Stoll and Driver’s characters aren’t utilized as much as they should which is a true shame given how talented they are. Stoll had a breakout role in Netflix’s flagship series House of Cards and he’s now the lead of FX’s new hit The Strain. Driver is best known for his role in HBO’s Girls, and is blowing up in a big way and has been confirmed as a lead role in the new Star Wars film. It also would have been nice to see more development between Bateman and Fey’s characters, especially since the two are such a perfect comedic pairing it makes my mind spin just thinking about it.

Despite the film’s overall shortcomings, the cast alone is more than enough to get you to watch and enjoy the movie. The story has its nice and hilarious moments, and Bateman in particular shows a softer side that you don’t get to see from him very often. Once again, it’s a shame that many of the actors in the story are underutilized (especially given the pedigree of talent here), but issues like this are, unfortunately, quite common in movies–especially ones with large ensemble casts, since it then becomes a delicate balancing act in terms of developing all of the numerous characters while still pushing the story forward. You can almost always tell a film has a strong cast when, regardless of any narrative flaws, the movie is still fun and entertaining. If the cast wasn’t as strong as it is in This is Where I Leave You, I’m unsure if I would recommend people giving this a try. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, so that is where I leave you.

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Kyle