By Jake Howell

The Torontonian reviews This Is Where I Leave You

Like a middling episode of House-Arrested Development, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You—adapted from the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name—is a dysfunctional family dramedy lacking in laughs and an emotional punch to really bring it home. The film gets by on its likable cast, but the fact that this film merely passes despite such a talented crop of comedic talent should speak to a general failure, or at least a sense of disappointment.

Starring as Judd Altman (the surname not a nod to the iconoclast director), Jason Bateman here more or less reprises earlier iterations of Michael Bluth, the straight-man glue that holds his clan together. He’s been good at this character for years, and while I’m beginning to think he’s now typecast as such, Bateman’s focal point leads are usually strong. This film is no exception.

But this is an ensemble comedy, so acting beside Bateman are Tina Fey (sister), Adam Driver, Corey Stoll (brothers), Jane Fonda (mother), Rose Byrne, and Timothy Olyphant (external love interests). Following the death of their father, the Altman family is finally reunited under the same roof to sit Shiva, a seven-day ordeal that raises tensions and blood pressures for everyone involved. It’s an inoffensive premise that you’ve seen before and will continue to see again.

There are a few other actors here (Kathryn Hahn plays Stoll’s flighty wife), but in terms of talent squandered, there’s no flaw more glaring than underwriting a Tina Fey character. Fey’s turn in This Is Where I Leave You as a grinning alcoholic is, sorry to say, lamentably dull. Ben Schwartz steals what little show there is as “Boner,” the hip-with-it rabbi who despises his nickname the Altmans gave him in the past. It’s fun to see Jane Fonda’s matriarch get some laughs with her new “bionic” breast implants, but it’s a bit juvenile and attributes to the film’s overall tonal unevenness. Case in point: to relieve its half-hearted attempt at tackling serious family drama, this is a film where a running joke includes a toddler who loves to carry his potty around in the darnedest places and most inopportune times.

The kernels of sadder, more depressing family problems are all here—pecking-order in-fighting, the inability to have children, alcoholism, superiority complexes—but they’re all tinged with a wink and tongue-in-cheek asides, so it’s hard to really feel compelled to care. It’s odd, because this film isn’t funny but it’s not dreadfully unfunny, so we’re left in this shrug-worthy state of: yup, it’s harmless and watchable, which is true of many Shawn Levy films.

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