Sunday, 31 May 2015

This Is Where I Leave You

Oh, beards. You’re great for many reasons. But in cinema, there is one reason that, for me, stands out above all others. Ever since Robin Williams pioneered the method in Good Will Hunting and Awakenings, it has almost become an unwritten rule to grow a beard when, if you’re known for your comedy work, you try and make a drama. 

In This Is Where I Leave You, out now on Blu-Ray and DVD, Jason Bateman brings the beard. But is it enough to save this unoriginal film?  This Is Where I Leave You, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Tropper (who also provided the screenplay), is another in a long line of dysfunctional-family-brought-together-by-death films. When their father passes away, four fully-grown siblings return to their childhood home and, in keeping with Jewish tradition, must stay there together for a week. Joining them are their widowed mother, their spouses, their exes, and more. Cue dysfunctional shenanigans, arguments, and new found respect for one another; and you’ve got This Is Where I Leave You. I was reminded of several other works whilst watching this film. Firstly, the obvious. Throughout the film, I could almost hear Ron Howard narrating. Hell, this film could’ve easily started with “Now the story of a normal family who lost their father, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s This Is Where I Leave You. I am of course referring to Arrested Development, the Jason Bateman-starring series to which all dysfunctional family stories are compared to. From Bateman’s silent looks of confusion and disappointment that were as Michael Bluth as Michael Bluth gets, to the loud-mouthed vain mother and sarcastic sister – this had Arrested Development written all over it. But more specifically I was reminded of Death at a Funeral and August: Osage County; both telling stories of deceased patriarchs and the ensuing reunion of a dysfunctional family for the funeral.

And so, I suppose that was my main problem with the film. I know, there have been so many films now that it’s difficult to create truly original material (although it can be done). But even taking that into consideration, it’s no excuse for making something SO unoriginal that it’s almost a remake of other films that have come before it.

It’s a shame, really. Because This Is Where I Leave You boasts a formidable group of actors and actresses. Alongside Jason Bateman, we have an ensemble cast including Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens cast-member Adam Driver. But it almost felt like too many; with so much going on with each character that it was often uncomfortable to watch. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the film had settled on a tone and genre, but This Is Where I Leave You didn’t seem to know if it was a comedy or drama. It wasn’t even ‘dramedy’, the label given to so many films of its type. It didn’t know what it was. When it tried to be funny, it fell flat. And when it tried to be dramatic, we weren’t invested in the characters enough to care. But the highlight of the film, as with many of his works, was Bateman himself. He’s the relatable, normal guy in a house full of unusual characters. He’s the spectator; we can slip into his shoes and watch as his family argues, falls apart and rebuilds itself around him. But hey, we can get that watching him in Arrested Development. And that is a hell of a lot funnier.

This is where I shall leave you, dear readers, so I shall wrap it up here. This film was disappointing in its unoriginality, tonal confusion and slow pacing. A good cast and even a beard on Bateman’s usually clean shaven face weren’t enough to make a memorable film out of This Is Where I Leave You. It’s almost like being at a funeral. It’s slow, dark and the only way to get through it is try and remember the happy times you’ve had with the people you’re seeing on screen.

2/5. May This Is Where I Leave You rest in peace.


Sam Love

This Is Where I Leave You at CeX

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