THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU. Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwarz. Directed by Sean Levy. Rated M (Sex scene, sexual references, drug use, coarse language, mature themes). 103 minutes.
Some years ago, there was a Jewish film called Seven Days/Shiva, about a family observing Shiva, sitting in the house for the week, mourning the dead. This film is a very American version of Shiva, often raucously so. It is based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the screenplay for the film.
This is a story of the death of the father of the family and the assembly of brothers and sister as seen from the point of view of the second son, Judd, with Jason Bateman in the role, using his talent for comic timing but having a much more serious role than usual. Within minutes of the opening of the film, he discovers that his wife has been having an affair with his boss. He sits glumly and then receives the news that his father has died.
The sister is Wendy (Tina Fey), unsatisfactorily married with two children (one of whom is continually seen with his potty, doing his training in public – and one wonders what this little actor will think and feel when he watches this film in 10 years time, 20 years time!). The older brother, Paul (Corey Stoll), has stayed close to his father, managing the family store, and trying with his wife, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), quite intensely, to become pregnant. Then there is Philip (Adam Driver), much younger, brought up by Wendy as a mother figure, now irresponsible, self-absorbed, bringing his former therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) who thinks she is in love with him.
As can be seen by this small summary, the potential for conflict is mighty – and is seen in many sequences, verbal clashes, physical clashes, comparisons, psychological rivalry…
And all is presided over by the matriarch, Hillary, who is played by Jane Fonda, still looking glamorous in her mid 70s, but, as part of the humour of the story, she has silicone enhanced breasts (of which is not at all ashamed). She has written a book in the past about families, with thinly disguised portraits of her own children. She has now called them together, loves them, tries to help them, while still rather airily going about her carefree way of life.
As if the family is not enough, there is the neighbour, Horry (Timothy offered) was in love with Wendy but suffered brain damage in a car accident and is still at home. His mother, Linda (Debra Monk) is in and out of the house, providing some of the refreshments. And yet another character. Rose Byrne is Penny, who still lives in the town, has had a crush on Judd in the past, finds matters complicated when he returns, but is a woman who is very direct, speaks her mind, and often with commonsense.
Stir all of this together, have the close family sitting in the one room, forbidden to go out of the house (which is interpreted exceedingly freely), have them go to Temple, presided over by the siblings’ friend, now a rather trendy Rabbi resenting his family nickname of Boner.
Here we have multi-multi problems, often taken seriously, sometimes exuberantly, and sometimes treated farcically. Many audiences may think it too much – especially a final revelation much too late dramatically speaking in the film and barely prepared for, which makes it somewhat implausible.
Some years ago there was a film called Life as it Is. A religious reviewer found it very objectionable, stating that it is better to have stories about Life as it should be. In fact, our lives are life as it is, messy, sinful, hurtful as well as striving for some kind of happiness and decency. This is what this film is like, raucous and rude, silly and serious, with an underlying family warmth that does not always come out the right way.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 23, 2014.