Nobody is happy in This Is Where I Leave You. Everyone is sad. Or angry, or lying, or cheating, or all of the above. And when the four grown siblings at the center of Shawn Levy's blithely manipulative dysfunctional-family comedy - a downer, really - bring their respective spouses, lovers, and bags of woe back to their childhood home, all sorts of confrontational hoo-ha ensues.
Jason Bateman, in softspoken default mode, is Judd Altman, a satellite-radio producer whose shock-jock boss has been sleeping with his wife - a fact Judd discovers when he surprises her with a birthday cake one afternoon. Adulterous interruptus, with icing on top.
Before he has a chance to process his newfound cuckoldry, though, there's a phone call: His father has died and he has to go home. Big sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is there, and earnest brother Paul (Corey Stoll). Their ne'er-do-well goofball sib Phillip (Adam Driver) even shows up - late for the funeral, of course. Wendy has a workaholic husband and two young kids. She also still has a thing for her high school beau (Timothy Olyphant), a sweet lug with a brain injury who lives across the street.
Presiding over this mopey bunch is Hilary Altman - Jane Fonda, bossy and bosomy, her character proudly sporting new implants. A therapist by trade (ironic!), Hilary cannibalized her own "cataclysmically screwed-up" family to author a book, Cradle and All, that became a huge bestseller. Her children, now sitting shiva for their dad, may still harbor some resentment.
I could go on. Judd has an old flame (Rose Byrne) who never left town. Brothers Paul and Phillip tear into each other - the former's rage fueled in part by his inability to impregnate his wife (Kathryn Hahn, another gifted comedian straitjacketed into this ersatz Eugene O'Neill business). Phillip brings his own lover along - Connie Britton as his ex-therapist and, if you want to get analytical about it, his surrogate mom.
This Is Where I Leave You has been adapted from the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name, which I haven't read, but which people say is very fine. If that's the case, then Shawn Levy, who directed the Night at the Museum films, has extracted only the book's most obvious elements. The movie toys with real emotions, with our emotions, in ways that are pat and writerly and button-pushing in the cheapest, cheesiest ways.
This Is Where I Leave You ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Shawn Levy. With Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Tina Fey, Adam Driver. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, sex, nudity, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.EndText