Remember that line from The Godfather: “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking”? In This Is Where I Leave You, it’s probably best not to tell the family, either. The bittersweet comedy about troubled siblings who reunite for their father’s funeral is like a group hug crossed with a battle royal.
“We need a new term for the tone. It’s not a dark comedy—because it’s not that dark. But it’s an emotional comedy,” says Tina Fey, who plays the pushy sister to three equally neurotic and combative brothers: Corey Stoll, Jason Bateman, and Adam Driver. Jane Fonda costars as their prying psychologist mother, who will either unite her estranged family or destroy it trying.
Based on the 2009 best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper (who wrote the screenplay), the film became the passion project of director Shawn Levy (Date Night, the Night at the Museum movies), who saw it as a chance to explore more intimate and dramatic territory—with actors interested in the same.
“Jason, Tina, me, we’ve done a lot of comedies, but we’re playing this a lot more naturalistically,” Levy says. “Almost every day, someone from the crew says, ‘Jesus, that scene freaked me out. It’s exactly like me and my brother.’ Or ‘That’s what I went through when my dad died’ or ‘…when my wife and I got separated.’”
Bateman plays Judd, the middle child whose wife has just ditched him for his boss (costing him his job, too), while Fey portrays Wendy, a frustrated mom who still yearns for her childhood neighbor (Justified’s Timothy Olyphant).
Stoll (House of Cards) plays Paul, the cranky big brother who can’t give his wife (Kathryn Hahn) the child she wants, and Driver (Girls, the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII) is Phillip, the spoiled baby of the family who brings his cougar therapist/girlfriend (Nashville’s Connie Britton) into the grieving process.
There are a few changes from the novel, but not as many as when the book was nearly adapted by two other filmmakers over the past five years. One of the main switches is noticeable, but ultimately superficial. The family was the Foxmans in the novel, but due to legal clearance issues, the surname is now the Altmans.
Tropper says his own vision of the characters began to shift while adapting the book as Levy cast the film. “With actors like this, who have very strong voices, you definitely find yourself in the last few drafts of the screenplay channeling them,” he says.
When it opens Sept. 12, This Is Where I Leave You could become known as the movie where Tina Fey made people cry. “And not just with my on-set anger,” she adds.
From Left to Right, here’s a rundown of who’s who in the family photo:
• Charles “Boner” Grodner (Ben Schwartz)
The family’s too-cool-for-schul rabbi with the inappropriate childhood nickname.
• Tracy (Connie Britton)
Therapist turned girlfriend of Phillip, a smart woman who has foolishly convinced herself he’s just as serious about her.
• Penny (Rose Byrne)
Long-ago, hometown crush for Judd, who still harbors high-school level adoration from him.
• Linda (Debra Monk)
The Altman’s neighbor, mother of Horry, and Hillary’s best friend and confidant. Maybe more.
• Phillip (Adam Driver)
The out-of-control youngest child, spoiled but charismatic. He’d like a cut of the family sporting goods business, despite no experience.
• Horry (Timothy Olyphant)
Neighbor and teenage boyfriend of Wendy, who suffered a brain injury when they were dating and now lives at home with mom Linda.
• Alice (Kathryn Hahn)
She briefly dated Judd when they were young, but later met and married his big brother Paul. She desperately wants a baby.
• Paul (Corey Stoll)
The steady, surly oldest son, and the only Altman who stayed behind to help his father run the family sporting goods business.
• Wendy (Tina Fey)
A married mother of two, still heartbroken over Horry, the damaged boy she left behind. Her life is lush, but loveless.
• Hilary (Jane Fonda)
A psychologist who wrote a bestselling parenting book about her troubled brood, her overt sexuality is a constant embarrassment.
• Barry (Aaron Lazar)
Wendy’s aloof but wealthy husband, who spends the funeral on his phone closing a deal with work.
• Judd (Jason Bateman)
The middle son, already a disappointment, whose life is spiraling after his wife left him for his boss, then announced she was pregnant.
• Shawn Levy
The director of the movie, best known for Real Steel, and the Night at the Museum films. With the father of the Altman clan deceased, he’s filling in as the Pater Familias.