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This is Where I Leave You (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Running time 104 minutes

Not for children.

One of the best clues to determine whether or not a movie stinks is to look at the trailer. If it shows all the best punchlines, you can generally rely on the fact that it’s a bomb.

The trailer for this film shows all the good punchlines, so I entered the screening with trepidation. To my great surprise, this is entertaining despite the ill-advised trailer.

Director Shawn Levy has made an irreverent, moving comedy out of Jonathan Tropper’s best-selling novel of the same name. He shows surprising depth as a director, depth one would not expect from the man responsible for the disappointing Night at the Museum fluff.

With an outstanding cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda, Hilary Altman (Fonda) calls her four children back to the family home to “sit Shiva” because that was what their Jewish father wanted, even though Hilary is not Jewish. Judd Altman (Bateman) is enduring a terrible crisis in his marriage when called. Arriving home he meets his sister, Wendy (Fey), and two brothers, Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll), all of whom have crises of one sort or another in their lives.

Tropper’s script is acute and sensitive, but it retains its humor throughout. Key to the success of the movie is Bateman’s performance as someone going through emotional hell, being pulled in all directions. He hits it dead on, not an easy task because it is a complicated role.

Although the movie is only a little over an hour and a half in length, we get to know all the characters extremely well. Supporting the stars are fine performances by Dax Shepard as Judd’s unlikeable boss, radio talk show star Wade Beaufort, Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Grodner, who’s trying to shake his childhood nickname, “Boner,” Rose Byrne as Penny who has been carrying a torch for Judd for years, Kathryn Hahn as Annie, Paul’s wife who wants desperately to get pregnant, and Timothy Olyphant as Wendy’s sweet youthful love.

This film has so many facets to it, so many characters, all with their own set of problems, that the fact that Tropper and Levy have made it into such a cohesive, entertaining movie is an admirable feat.