Thank God for Hollywood. When it clicks, it clicks and with “This Is Where I Leave You,” the engines are churning and tuned up well.
The movie features Jason Batemen, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll as members of the Altman family, who gather for a funeral in which the father, Jane Fonda’s husband, has just passed away. They are forced by the Jewish custom of Shiva, to endure each other’s company for seven days of mourning, which sets up what could be a week of claustrophobic comedy.
But the screenplay does the opposite. This is a week of airing out some laundry, or you might say cleaning out the attic.
Still, where else but Hollywood can you find five reasonably mature people in the same house, all of whom are about to collide with a growth moment?
The movie is anchored by Bateman (playing Judd Altman), a deadpan master, who is a champion of middle aged angst. Fey (Wendy Altman) is wry, cute and disappointed with her marriage. Driver (Phillip Altman) is the family kid who never grew up and who arrives late with Connie Britton, who plays cougar Tracy Sullivan who, oops, also happens to be his therapist.
That leaves Stoll as Paul Altman, who is the resident stick-in-the-mud, the middle child who took over the family retail business and is currently focused on getting his wife pregnant – an effort that has become more work than play.
Last but not least, Jane Fonda is the bereaved widow who is milking the laughs (sorry) by dint of a recent breast enhancement, which is more than a bit out of character, considering her age.
In so many words, the Altmans are a family in which everybody is funny even though nobody is trying to be. Bateman is in shock over his wife’s infidelity. Fey is on medicated cruise control. Driver is cheerful, but lost and Stoll is the family martyr. This leaves Fonda, who has never been particularly funny. And here, overlooking the point that her boobs are about all you can see, she has her character down pat and is extremely funny.
This movie is like “Parenthood” meets “The Simpsons.” The humor is bright and touching. It never lapses into embarrassing chaos. It’s about characters you root for – right down to the last man, who might be Timothy Olyphant playing Horry Callen, a neighbor and Fey’s teenage heartthrob whose short-term memory was erased by a car accident when they were dating.
This is touching, fun, very funny. Four stars – four very solid stars.