What is it about funeral centered movies that makes them so damn compelling? It’s probably due to the whole situation basically being one gigantic powder keg waiting to blow when the entire dysfunctional family is forced to converge under the same roof together for an extended period of time. Sooner or later someone says or does something that will be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, anger boils over in an instant and all the accumulated resentment, emotional baggage and old grudges come back to the surface in tsunami like wave, which of course makes for great drama. Plus I suppose there’s something about the subject of death and the act of last farewells, trying to achieve some kind of a cathartic release amidst the sorrow, grief and anger that you experience in these situations that is universally compelling. After all, deep down we all know we’re going to be in that same exact situation when your own family members start to die as you grow older. And with age you also begin realize that you’re on your own personal marathon towards your own funeral. But let’s back to the topic at hand.
The movie’s got a solid cast, filled with familiar faces. It was kinda nice to see Jason Bateman star in a movie for once that isn’t so awful that you wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. I want to watch more movies with Jason but when he makes stuff like Identity Thief, he’s making it really hard. Moving on, I just loved Tina Fey’s performance in this movie, she was really good as a bit alcoholic, unhappy wife and Bateman’s slightly obnoxious sister. I wish we could have gotten to know more about her, her slightly heart crushing subplot involving Timothy Olyphant was really interesting and could have used more development, but perhaps it just works better when you only see snippets of it, leaving you wanting to see more. Speaking of Olyphant, he really surprised me with his very reserved and a bit tragic rendition of Fey’s former boyfriend, who years ago had suffered permanent brain damage which in part resulted in Fey and him breaking up. I don’t think I’ve seen this side of him as an actor before, and it makes me want to see him in the future pursue more projects where he could show more of his untapped range. I mean, I’m loving this news that they’re going to do Deadwood film and the prospect of Olyphant as Seth Bullock again but it’d be cool to see him start to do more roles where he isn’t a lawman with possible anger issues. But I digress. Adam Driver was pretty okay as the young pup of the siblings, who’s the most immature, free spirit of the family. I’m still a bit on the fence when it comes to Driver as an actor, I can’t seem to decide whether or not I actually like him as an actor, or do I just find his face so oddly fascinating due to how weird it looks to me. Jane Fonda as the matriarch of the family who forces the entire family to sit shiva was pretty amusing and though she doesn’t really have that big of a role beyond being the overbearing mother, she’s entirely at home in his role here. Who am I still forgetting…? Oh yes Corey Stoll. While I always find him likable, he was just serviceable here as the largely a straight man of the family. His role was nothing special but he’s entirely okay in it.
As I’ve more than once mention before, I tend to find romance subplots to be somewhat obnoxious because they often just feel superfluous to the story and usually just eat screen time from far more interesting things happening in the movie. But here it actually kinda works, largely thanks to the movie starting off with Bateman’s character finding his wife cheating on him with his boss, something that works well enough that it makes it more natural when gets talked into what seems like typical rebound relationship with a girl he had a crush on in high school. The movie also handles the entire failed marriage thing, along with the fact that his wife later turns out to be pregnant, in a mature (in as much as the drama/comedy structure allows) and surprisingly compelling manner, and makes Jason’s romance subplot have actual depth and eventually lead to proper character development down the line, making it slightly more than a trope being checked on a list of movie clichés.
In the end, This Is Where I Leave You end up being a very solid, entertaining movie until around 2/3 through, after which it kinda lost me for while, but even then it’s mostly guilty of just not being able to deliver a satisfying ending. And it’s not like the ending is particularly awful, it merely does not grab you the way you might want it to, so it’s a bit lukewarm finish after otherwise engaging drama. I quite enjoyed the movie as a whole, it just slows down too much and doesn’t manage to close the story with a strong finish. But I guess sometimes you just can’t have everything.