Wednesday, 29 October 2014

This Is Where I Leave You (2014) - Movie Review

Given my habitual watching of everything that comes my way, expectations on how a movie looks and sounds before seeing it means something different than what it used to. Before, as it probably does for a lot of you reading this, I would look at a film’s cast, premise and trailer and judge whether or not I would go and see it based on that. Now, since I watch most if not all of the movies I get trailers for, it feels more like opening a birthday present from somebody I don’t know; it could be good, bad, bizarre or any mixture of the three, but I won’t know till I open it. I’ve had movies that were good that I thought would be bad (The Fault In Our Stars), vice versa (22 Jump Street) or had my assumptions proven right (Divergent sucked). What am I getting at with all this? Well, tl;dr I thought This Is Where I Leave You would be hilarious just because Tina Fey is in it.

The plot: Shortly after being cheated on by his wife, Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has to attend his father’s funeral. His father’s last wish was for his whole family to sit for Shiva, a Jewish custom where the deceased’s family live in the same house for seven days). Hijinks ensue.

The phrase ‘hijinks ensue’ is usually applied, by me anyway, to comedies that have plots that exist solely for the purpose of getting a group of dysfunctional people together to bounce off of each other, usually for extremely trite reasons. Now, while the premise itself is perfectly serviceable, I specify ‘hijinks ensue’ because there is a lot of dysfunctional family shenanigans in this movie… too much of it, in fact. Any time there’s an argument between the characters, it’s never one argument; the main characters are made up of Judd, his mother (Jane Fonda), his sister (Tina Fey) and his two brothers, and there are usually three separate arguments going on at the same time. Chaotic family drama is fine, but not at this high a dosage and not this frequently. It’s difficult keeping track of what’s going on sometimes.

There is also a serious flaw with the dialogue specifically that really got on my nerves: ‘Complicated’. They say this word a lot, always in description of how Judd’s life is. This is a problem for two reasons: One, it shows that the writer clearly doesn’t know how to use a thesaurus; and two, it’s a large brick to the face with Judd’s character arc wrapped around it. Don’t get me wrong, the character arc itself is fine with Judd learning to cope with how his life is and making the most of it, but the overuse of that one word makes what could have been some form of nuance just feel sloppy. The golden rule of the visual medium is ‘Show, don’t tell’, and between the cluttered family drama and the repeating of the word ‘complicated’, this movie succeeds at overdoing both of them at once.

Okay, enough negativity… for now. The cast are all great actors and it shows, with each giving a good performance and helping to elevate this wobbly bowl of something they keep calling a screenplay. As I said, I wanted to see this purely on the basis of Tina Fey, whose work on 30 Rock I find to be really damn funny, and she does great here as Judd’s sister Wendy getting most of the better lines in terms of comedy… with one exception.

Remember the trailer when she asked if Judd was in ‘the excessive facial hair phase of [his] depression’? Well, the movie didn’t seem to as that line isn’t in the movie. I really don’t like it when the trailer shows what isn’t in the movie, but here it sucks because I thought that was a nice bit of dialogue and wanted to see it used in context. (That might literally be the biggest nitpick I have ever made in my life, but fuck it.) Fonda as the matriarch of the family does great with her role, delivering all of the embarrassing stories she keeps telling people with the right punches needed. The scenes between her and Bateman are the major highlights of the movie, with major tear-jerking throughout. Also, while I maintain that there was too much going on at once, the Altmans actually feel like a real family with how they talk to each other in the more sedate moments of the film, making me think that this could have been such a better movie with a few tweaks.

All in all, despite all my bitching above, this is a nice movie. Very chaotic with quite a few dud jokes, and yeah I found it to be a bit disappointing, but you could certainly do a lot worse.

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