By Britton Perelman, For The Miami Student
You probably thought your family was complicated, that is, until you saw "This Is Where I Leave You." Led by Jason Bateman, who plays Judd, "This Is Where I Leave You" follows the Altman family through the seven days after their father dies. His final wish was to have his four grown children sit Shiva for him, forcing them to spend more time together than they have since they all left home.
The dramedy opened this past weekend with one of the most star-studded casts currently in the box-office. Jason Bateman plays his typical character as Judd Altman, a 30-something who recently lost his wife, his house and his job in the same day. His siblings Paul (Corey Stoll), Wendy (Tina Fey) and Phillip (Adam Driver) are all amusing stereotypes of their roles in the family. Paul, the oldest, is the most traditionally successful one; Wendy, the only girl, is the mothering one; and Phillip, the youngest, is the family screw-up. Their mother Hillary (Jane Fonda), a successful author, has used her own family's - often embarrassing -- stories to make a living, a fact that still mortifies her children.
But "This Is Where I Leave You" wasn't solely about the Altman children; it was about their spouses, their kids, their neighbors and some old high school acquaintances as well. The sheer number of characters ended up being the film's weakest point. With at least 10 major characters, no one got an adequate amount of time for backstory or very much depth at all. I can see how this wouldn't have been a problem in Jonathan Tropper's novel, but it didn't translate as well in the screenplay. Tina Fey's role, for example, was good, something different for her, but there wasn't enough time spent explaining important aspects of her character's past. We got snippets, but not enough to fully understand or connect.
Despite the number of characters, the Altman family was everyone's family. It didn't matter that we didn't fully know the history of each character, because it was the family as a whole we were supposed to relate to. The individual characters needed more, but the family itself felt very real. "This Is Where I Leave You" reminds us that, while family may be complicated and crazy, there is beauty in that dysfunction. It's amusing and funny to watch this film, but underneath the jokes and comebacks there is a true message about finding perfection in the imperfection of our family.
At one point in the movie, Judd, whose life has been turned upside down in less than a month, says, "I've been chasing this idea about a perfect life, but life is unpredictable and irrational and complicated and I want a complicated life." I think, though we might not all realize it at first, we're all like Judd. We want the complicated, the unpredictable, and the irrational because it's way more exciting and interesting than a life that goes exactly as planned.
No matter what it is, you'll be able to find something in "This Is Where I Leave You." Maybe it's seeing your family reflected in some way on the screen, maybe it's learning a lesson about enjoying the little things in life from the toddler who just really loves to tote his little kid toilet seat around with him and do his business in the front lawn, maybe you just need Jane Fonda to tell you that whatever emotional reaction you have to stressful situations - crying or laughing - it's okay. The power in movies like this one lies in the fact that everyone in the audience can find something to connect to, something that will leave them thinking of their own beautifully complicated life.