Yes, I am in a book club. There. I said it. I own it. It is awesome. This past year we have been focusing on books that have been picked up for film production. We have a lot to see over the next 12 months. Selections like Wild, Beautiful Ruins, The Vacationers, Gone Girl, and so on. Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You was on my list as soon as it was released in 2009, although I only recently got around to reading it. As a bibliophile, I found myself laughing out loud from the get go. The tremendously descriptive imagery, the seemingly familial story, the witty banter, all grabbed me right away. As a fan of the book, Tropper‘s page to screen translation was a huge success.
So, here the long and short of it; Judd Altman’s life kinda sucks. He walks in on his wife sleeping with his shock-jock radio host boss while attempting to surprise her for her birthday. Quickly spiraling into depression, he gets a call from his sister saying that his dad has passed away. The Altmans have not been under the same roof for quite some time. Matriarch Hillary declares that dad’s last wish was for everyone to sit Shiva together. With an over-sharing mother, Judd’s secret personal issues, a sister married to a wealthy and absent asshole, older brother dealing with the family business and trying to impregnate his wife, and the youngest being a complete fuck up, hilarity naturally ensues.
The screenplay is about 95% true to the novel. Fans will only miss out a 4 key factors that are left behind. (A sex scene, a sibling back story, more screen time for a secondary character, and an immensely funny moment with a birthday cake). Otherwise, the line readings are directly from the book. Anything left by the wayside wouldn’t change my take on this adaptation. I think it made a huge difference having Tropper also do the screenplay. Director, Shawn Levy, with other comedies under his belt (The Internship, Date Night, and The Night at the Museum series), does a fantastic job bringing this story to the screen.
Jason Bateman is a joy to watch, as Judd. His perfect mix of cynicism and heart make this performance truly memorable. Jane Fonda plays mother, famous therapist/author, with ease and zeal. Comedy gold is produced with each non-filtered social faux pas. Tina Fey plays sister Wendy. This was a great role for Fey’s penchant for snark. No slapstick here, just genuine, brother/sister, “I’m gonna call your ass out” kind of realness. Corey Stoll plays eldest brother Paul with a quiet energy that fits right in with the rest of the cast. You actually believe they are related. Not every sibling can be a dominant personality. Speaking of, Adam Driver, who is everywhere these days, nails the role of youngest bro Phillip. One liners with the passion of your typical babied, get away with murder, totally enabled, youngest child.
Also, completely worth mentioning are performances by Kathryn Hann. Not her usual brash side kick comedy, but a beautiful little role that allowed her softer side to show. Debra Monk as Linda Callen, neighbor and “second mother” in the Altman household. She is timid and truthful and a wonderful addition to the chaos. Connie Britton plays Tracy Sullivan, Phillip’s older, therapist and girlfriend. A woman fooling herself in fixing the unfixable. Finally, I cannot forget to mention Timothy Olyphant. He plays Horry Callen, Linda’s son and high school sweetheart of Wendy (Fey). Genuine and sweet and constantly putting things into perspective for the group.
Coming from a family of four kids (myself, being the eldest) this is what’s it’s like in my house on holidays. Everyone has an opinion. But in the end, we all love each other. This Is Where I Leave You left me wanting to know what happens to these characters long after Shiva is done. If you have the time, I recommend checking out the novel. It’s a story that we can all relate to. Trying to figure out where we fit in. Trying to figure out what comes next. Are we happy where we have landed? Questions and fears that may never go away but no one more so than your family wants to to help you figure them out.
This book club fan, most definitely recommends you check out the film. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is in theaters today.