Movie review: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ is a funny, good ‘August: Osage County’

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman and Adam Driver in a scene from the film, "This Is Where I Leave You." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

By Ed Symkus

More Content Now

For anyone still reeling from the ordeal, earlier this year, of watching “August: Osage County,” in which a father’s death reunited a dysfunctional family under one roof, resulting in much caterwauling and overacting, here’s some good news. “This Is Where I Leave You,” with a script by Jonathan Tropper, who also wrote the hit 2009 novel, is the snappy, sparkling, funny version of “August: Osage County.” Dad dies, kids come back to mom’s house for a week, arguments ensue, long-kept secrets are revealed. But you’ll be chortling rather than cringing.

Although this is a genuine ensemble piece, in which everyone gets some time to shine, the story has Judd (Jason Bateman) at its center. He remains the calm in the stormy sea of the Altman family, whose matriarch, Hillary (Jane Fonda), is a celebrity author who has written far too much, far too openly, about her family. Judd’s brothers, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver), are experiencing various degrees of difficulties with, respectively, a wife and an older fiancée, and with each other. Judd’s sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), is stuck in a bland marriage and still thinks about the good times with her now addled, accident victim ex-boyfriend Horry (Timothy Olyphant).

But it’s Judd we focus on because he’s having the roughest patch. Even before his dad’s death, he discovers, in uncomfortably comic manner, in the film’s terrific introductory scenes, that his wife is sleeping with his boss, and has been for some time. Then dad dies, then he has to return to the little town he happily left long ago.

So there they all are. Mom, the kids, their spouses, their partners, all sorts of friends and relatives, along with a few people who, for whatever reason, never got to leave the little town, squeezed together in the family home to pay their respects by “sitting Shiva,” which is a traditional Jewish period of mourning, and which is an oddity in this setting because none of the characters is Jewish. On a side note, there’s also Charles Grodner (Ben Schwartz), the hippest rabbi in the history of cinema, or at least the rabbi character who believes he’s the hippest.

Director Shawn Levy has a choppy track record, jumping from the forced comedy of the remake of “The Pink Panther” to the pretty good fantasy of “Night at the Museum” and the uneven science-fictioner “Real Steel.” But he keeps successfully tight control of the irreverent funny stuff here, and makes great use of sharp actors delivering Jonathan Tropper’s fast-moving dialogue, just about all of which flows naturally.

It’s always nice to see Jane Fonda in a comic role. Here she’s as adept at presenting Hillary as a free spirit, as a concerned mom who is forgiving of all of her kids’ many faults, and as a woman who enjoys showing off her buxom figure, even if, maybe especially if, it makes her kids uncomfortable.

Complications for these folks never seem to stop piling on. Judd bumps into his old flame Penny (Rose Byrne), and there are definitely some unresolved issues there. Judd’s cheating wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) arrives, uninvited, with some interesting, plot-twisting news. Youngest brother Phillip, the true free spirit of the Altman clan, finally admits that he’s “the family screw-up.” You’ve gotta wonder, can’t anybody in this movie be happy?

Yes, they can. But the film doesn’t need the off-putting distraction of a little kid running through the scenes, dragging and using a portable potty for comic effect, or to make the characters smile. It’s nice that in the midst of all of the film’s comedy and chaos and emotional complications, there are moments of tenderness. It’s even nicer that, in the end, all of the story’s up-and-down complexities are clearly explained, and will leave viewers satisfied and smiling.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written by Jonathan Tropper; directed by Shawn Levy

With Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Rose Byrne

Rated R