‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Leaves a Rich (But Odd) Taste

D’you ever wonder what the rich do while waiting for the next proxy statement? Do they wander into the servants’ quarters and annoy the staff? Do they join the committee that has been lobbying for three long years to get gluten-free items on the menu at the club? Are they desperately seeking a different vacation spot now that Montauk is lousy with new money?

Well, what do you know: It turns out they spend most of their time feeling their feelings.

And boy, do they got a lot of feelings … as you’ll discover when you see This is Where I Leave You, a domestic comedy/drama directed by Shawn Levy and adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his novel of the same name.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, the privileged son of a privileged family headed by Jane Fonda and—well, headed just by Jane, since the movie opens with the death of the father. Jane tells her grown-up children (Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, and Adam Driver) that it was Poppa’s dying wish for the entire family to sit shiva. This means that for seven days the whole clan will stay at the parental home mourning their father and receiving condolence calls. It is, to say the least, an unappealing prospect for most of them, because nobody in the family gets along and they all got problems.

And boy, do they got a lot of problems.

The Downers of the Upper Class

I left out one detail up above. The movie actually opens with Bateman discovering his wife having sex with his boss … and then he gets the call about his dad. So what with one thing and another, he’s having a rough year. And coming home and running into two ex-girlfriends isn’t helping matters.

As for the other siblings: Fey’s husband is a cold corporate suit who isn’t there even when he is, and she’s dealing with her own guilt because of what happened between her and her old boyfriend Horry, played by Timothy Olyphant. Stoll and his wife are relentlessly (but futilely) attempting to get pregnant, while Driver is the family’s problem child, incapable of conviction, commitment or constancy. He shows up back home as sort of the boy-toy of a rich older woman, Connie Britton, who, at some point in their past, was his therapist.

Oh, baby! Tina Fey and Jason Bateman are brilliant in the roles of Wendy and her brother Judd, but as the little one senses, there's something about the film that makes you want to scream.

Oh, baby! Tina Fey and Jason Bateman are brilliant in the roles of Wendy and her brother Judd, but as the little one senses, there’s something about the film that makes you want to scream.

I’m torn about This is Where I Leave You. On one hand it’s an intelligently written, wonderfully adult character piece. I found it enormously refreshing to see a film not about the vapid lives of vacuous teenagers. Tropper’s screenplay is filled with complexity, emotional ambivalence, and genuine wit—qualities which seem to have been bred out of the cinematic gene pool. So bully for TIWILY!

On the other hand, I wanted to give everyone in the movie a kick in the pants and a plea to stop whining already!

It’s true that everyone has problems and life can be a struggle for both the rich and the poor, but there’s just something so eye-rolling about the people in this film and their endless needs to talk incessantly about their self-manufactured troubles. I guess when financial issues are no longer a concern, restless minds turn inward to ask ridiculous questions like “Am I Happy?,” “Is This the Authentic Me?” or “Will I Ever Find Real Love?”

You wanna know true torment? Try making your living by seeing movies and writing about them. Then come back and talk to me about life’s existential void.

Great Acting, Thin Spots, and Product Placement

The acting in TIWILY is first-rate across the board and I especially enjoyed Bateman’s performance. One of the problems with the film is that Bateman’s character, Judd, remains a nondescript cypher throughout—yet every woman in this movie who isn’t a blood relative is hopelessly in love with him. It’s Bateman’s charm as an actor, not the character’s, which makes such a loopy premise vaguely plausible. I’m a big fan of Bateman’s work in “Arrested Development” and am happy to report that the snarky sarcasm he employed as Michael Bluth in that cult TV show is absent here; he fully invests in his character and plays with utter sincerity. Fey, as well, steps back from her trademark hip/cool persona and brings a great deal of wounded humanity to her underwritten role.

Women, generally, don’t come off all that well in this movie. Fey’s character feels like a satellite in the lives of the men around her, and Fonda, too, is only there for frat-boy jokes about older women and their sexuality.

In a dressed-down moment, black sheep Phillip (Adam Driver) sports a simple black T with shoulder accessory.

In a dressed-down moment, black sheep Phillip (Adam Driver) sports a simple black T with shoulder accessory.

And we won’t even talk about the surprise reveal toward the end, but suffice it to say that only in Hollywood …

The bigger surprise is that TIWILY ends up being a “Daddy, why don’t you love me?” kind of film. To tell you the truth, I could go to the end of my days without having to sit through any more of those.

And yet I can’t dismiss This Is Where I Leave You because I enjoyed a lot of it. Educated people saying intelligent things (even if about stupid subjects) is, after a summer of spandex and ‘splosions, a welcome pleasure.

One thing about the rich: They do live in better houses than most of us do, wear better clothing, and drive nicer cars. Director Levy is as beguiled by the purchasing power of the upper classes as the rest of us are, and when they transfer this film to DVD, they should embed a lot of hyperlinks so you can click on the screen and buy some of the lovely furniture or handsome footware or sporty automobiles.

Not that they need it, but TIWILY serves as a recruitment tool for what British playwright Tom Stoppard calls “The Architectural Classes.” I’d love to be part of this world and hang out with these people. Just as long as they keep their mouths shut.

Photos © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic. He harbors dreams of marrying above his station.