One of my favorite quotes about family and home comes from Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I think it exemplifies that idea that not everyone gets to (or wants to) be a part of the perfect family that loves unconditionally. This line makes it clear that you can struggle to love your family, though anywhere you’d be willing to call home is likely a place you’ll find them.
This is Where I Leave You introduces us to the Altman family that has come together to bury their husband and father. Judd (Jason Bateman) has recently seen his marriage collapse in spectacular fashion, and has yet to tell his family – though his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) knows. Wendy’s husband is not particularly present to help raise their two children, and coming home has reminded Wendy of the loss of the love of her life, Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who lives across the street with his mother. Eldest brother, Paul (Corey Stoll – brilliant on House of Cards) hasn’t been able to impregnate his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn), and the baby of the family, Philip (Adam Driver), has yet to grow up.
Together the siblings sit shiva with their over-sharing, therapist mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda) and spend a week getting reacquainted. Traditional family drama ensues, including both the feeling of wanting to see your sibling get in trouble and hating the fact that your sibling is hurting. The line in the midst of this duality is where the movie finds its heart.
They don’t hate their mother, but they struggle with loving her. Judd can’t hate his wife, but he’s pretty sure he can’t stay married. Wendy can’t have a life with Horry, but she’s not sure she loves the life she’s got. Paul is tired of being the peacemaker/caretaker of the family, but he’s struggling to start his own. Phillip is stuck in the family role of screw up, though he does seem to be happiest of the bunch. Being able to rely on each other, if not for comfort, at least to hold up a mirror to their choices, is what the family needs most.
The film does a good job of balancing these competing story lines, with Judd being the character we follow most closely. A lot of the humor, and there is a lot, comes from watching the family bicker, tease, taunt, cajole, and most importantly mourn their father. The dark humor can be funny, and revealing. Tina Fey’s performance was my favorite, but as a fellow sister with only a brother, I might be biased. The large cast does maintain a balance, thanks to Jonathan Trooper’s writing, and Shawn Levy’s directing, not a small feat with this kind of wattage on the screen. The only gag to really miss the mark is the recurring one about Jane Fonda’s boobs. Although effectively funny the first few times, it got to the point where it just became uncomfortable for me as well as her onscreen family.
Filled with the type of honest humor that can only be found within a dysfunctional family setting, This is Where I Leave You never loses sight of its heart. Levy reminds us that as we grow up our relationships with our family definitely change, but home somehow always remains constant.