That old saw about bickering siblings returning to their childhood home to pick at old scabs on the road to a feel-good group hug gets recycled yet again in Shawn Levy’s bland-as-oatmeal comedy This Is Where I Leave You. The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda’s cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It’s a misfire that’s especially confounding considering that you couldn’t ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers: deadpan maestro Jason Bateman, sarcastic bossy pants Tina Fey, slow-burning straight man Corey Stoll, and the whirling dervish wildcard Adam Driver.
Based on Jonathan Tropper’s 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You swirls around Fonda’s imperious and gleefully inappropriate matriarch Hillary Altman—a bestselling author and family therapist (oh, the irony!) who gathers her four children and their significant others to the stately suburban colonial they grew up in to sit shiva after their father passes away. Each is grappling with his or her own set of issues: Bateman’s Judd recently walked in on his wife cheating on him with his loutish boss; Fey’s Wendy is stuck in a loveless marriage and still pines for her first love (Timothy Olyphant); Stoll’s Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) are fighting a losing battle with infertility; and Driver’s Phillip is your standard-issue cosseted screw-up. After viciously needling one another like they used to as kids, they all wind up helping each other unpack their emotional baggage because…well, that’s what the sharp-as-a-butter-knife Hollywood playbook dictates.
It’s not the actors’ faults. Some of them (especially Bateman and Rose Byrne as his old high school flame) are quite good. But none is called on to do much more than deliver punchless punchlines and goopy third-act dollops of laughter-through-tears schmaltz. And they look like they know it. All of which leaves you wondering: Why cast such talented, interesting, and edgy performers if you’re only going to ask them play it safe? C