Published Sep 18, 2014There's a rule of thumb that should be considered when approaching a movie with a large ensemble cast. The more talented performers involved, the easier it likely was for each subsequent person to sign on. That's not necessarily because the script's any good, but because there's less risk or blame to be assumed if it doesn't work. That's perhaps how we ended up with the tepid dramedy This Is Where I Leave You, a film that appears to operate on the assumption that quantity of subplots is somehow more important than quality.
Judd (Jason Bateman) is having a bad year. Shortly after learning that his "shock jock" boss (Dax Shepard) at a radio station is sleeping with his wife, he finds out that his dad has just passed away. He returns to his childhood home to sit Shiva for seven days at the insistence of his mother (Jane Fonda), despite the fact that his dad was not even Jewish.
He's reunited with and introduced to an overwhelming number of people. There's his sister Wendy (Tina Fey), who has a couple of kids and is married to what may as well be a cardboard cut-out of an asshole; his older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who's desperately trying to have a baby with his wife, Alice (Kathryn Hahn); and his younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver), a free spirit with an older girlfriend (Connie Britton).
There are too many relationships going on for any of them to have enough time to resonate. Wendy has a lost flame (Timothy Olyphant) that suffered a brain injury when they were younger and Judd starts romancing a skating instructor (Rose Byrne) that crushed on him when they were in school together. By the time Britton shows up near the end to wrap up her storyline, we've nearly forgotten that she was even in the movie.
There are laughs along the way because of the cast, even if they are mostly of the canned sitcom variety. Fey and Driver are predictably adept at milking a scene for all it's worth with their delivery, but the jokes about the size of Fonda's new boobs and the kid who's learning to toilet train aren't quite as funny the third or fourth time around. It also makes it harder to transition to the scenes in which maudlin piano provides the soundtrack for nearly every combination of characters to unconvincingly talk about their feelings.
The screenplay's been adapted by the author himself from a 2009 Jonathan Tropper novel, and most likely there was more room on the page for all these characters to breathe. Here, it's been turned into a Garry Marshall movie in search of a holiday.