Monday, September 15, 2014

On THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU

My September 10th blog post is SNL Stars Go Dramatic.  I was very moved and touched by the dramatic outing of Saturday Night Live graduates Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in the new film, The Skeleton Twins.  Another SNL grad got to show her dramatic chops and she was also quite effective.  Just like Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins, Tina Fey plays an adult sibling in the new film, This Is Where I Leave You.  This is more of an outright comedy than The Skeleton Twins but it also has heartache and some poignant dramatic moments.  Tina Fey gives us one of the those moments. What a good actress.

The TV commercial gives the impression that Jane Fonda stars as the mother of a wacky family that puts the "fun" in the word "dysfunctional."  Jason Bateman plays the son, a man whose heart is wounded from a marriage gone sour.  He joins his family to sit shiva for his late father.  It's odd for them participate in that Jewish  practice for a loved one who died considering that the shiva chairs are exactly where they usually placed the Christmas tree.  But that's the kind of family of it is.  It's an upscale, unconventional family.  Each grown kid is quick with a snarky comeback or a wisecrack.  Mom, a best-selling author, is proud of her shape -- and should be.  The dialogue is peppered with four-letter words, sex talk and sibling bickering.

I saw this movie with my Sirius OutQ Radio host/buddy, Keith Price.  I agree with something he said when we left the screening.  Inside each barrage of snarky comments or loopy incident, there was a serious verbal or physical show of true affection.  Snark alone gets tiresome, as you know if you have someone who is constantly snarky on Twitter or Facebook.  It's like the blind date that can't end soon enough so you can be with someone real and mature.  Someone who's not trying to be funny with every single statement.  The sister and brothers really do love each other, although they may not always say so.  They love their mother and she loves them.  That week of shiva, their late father's last wish, will bring about revelations, unexpected bonding and happiness.
Bearded Jason Bateman is Judd Altman.  He's a good man.  A little piece of business in the open shows his character.  He's a producer for a highly-rated syndicated morning talk radio show.  He zooms cheerfully into his big city offices with a large coffee that he purchased for his assistant, a young and busy Asian woman.  When's the last time you saw a well-paid boss get coffee for his assistant in a movie?  Judd is someone we can care about.

We care about how he'll pick up the pieces of his life when his marriage shatters.

This is the second time this year Jason Bateman has impressed me with his acting depth.  Earlier this year, I went to see him in Bad Words.  The trailer made it seem...well, too inappropriate for words.  I expected to hate it.  I wound up loving up.  Bateman starred in and directed a smart, rude and wise comedy about the power of words and how we choose to use them.  He tells his story with a grown man (played by Bateman) legally entering a national spelling bee competition.  He seems bent on entering the competition for some sort of revenge.  A little brainiac is a top opponent who winds becoming his unlikely buddy.  Bateman's character was like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Jack Nicholson's novelist character in As Good As It Gets.  He's verbally rude to the world because there's some pain, some heartache, that he wants to keep hidden.  Karma will make him pay a price for his rudeness.  And the little braniac will learn a lesson in parenthood and friendship.  These are two flawed and wounded sons.


Bateman gradually reveals more and more about the spelling bee contestant's adult pain.  There was such warmth and depth in the last part of Bad Words that I still feel it's one of the most under-appreciated films of this year.  Bateman's direction was commendable.  His performance was excellent.  Bad Words was quite original and inspired compared to some summertime sequels and romantic comedies we got.

Bateman didn't direct This Is Where I Leave You but, again, he displays some fine tenderness and depth as an actor which keeps this family story from seeming like a special episode of his Arrested Development sitcom.  Here, Bateman is Judd Altman.  Tina Fey plays Judd's sister, Wendy.  It's a close brother and sister bond, like the one in need of repair in The Skeleton Twins.  Wendy and Judd have a heart-to-heart talk on a rooftop that really got me.  I didn't expect to see Tiny Fey go dramatic.  But, when you think about it, she played and wrote the flip side of disappointment and heartache so brilliantly on the sitcom, 30 Rock.  All that comedy came from high drama in someone's life.  Tina Fey's dramatic skills are as fine as her comedy skills.

I've written before that I'm always fascinated when a performer we associate with comedy flips the script, challenges him or herself and does good dramatic work.  I loved that rooftop scene Tina Fey did. She was so emotionally naked and true to her character.  Very believable.  A beautiful scene. Fey also delivers one of the film's biggest laughs.
Long, lean Adam Driver is known to fans of HBO's Girls.  He's the youngest Altman brother.  The free-spirit.  The manchild.  The hip dude.  I loved Driver's performance.  Especially his final scene.  Keith loved Driver's final scene too.
Corey Stoll plays the business-like brother who used to be fun.  Now he's all buttoned up and serious.  His wife is frustrated.  If you watched House of Cards, he played the sexy young politician with the liquor and recreational drug habit.
And there's Jane Fonda as the modern mother, remembering her late husband with lines like "We made love on our first date.  I don't mind telling you, the man was hung."  Later at a service with her sons, she hits them with "You got high in temple?"  I've pretty much grown up watching Jane Fonda movies -- from the fun and funny Barbarella and Cat Ballou to the serious They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Klute and Coming Home to her sweet family drama, On Golden Pond, starring her real-life father, Henry Fonda.  I've interviewed her.  Jane Fonda is 76.  She looks terrific.  Jane is one hot senior babe.  It's fabulous to see her back on the big screen again.  She nails her comedy scenes.
Is this a classic comedy about an unusual family, a classic like Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You, Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond or Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters?  No.  And it doesn't try to be.  It's just an entertaining,  light comedy/drama about loving, dysfunctional family members who need to reconnect, open up, let go, embrace some changes and move on to some new things in their lives.
You get the feeling that cast thoroughly enjoyed each other's company on and off camera.  There's a warmth about this cast that beams through adds to the enjoyment of this movie.  The actors seemed like a family.  You like these people.
To director Shawn Levy I say "Thank you!" for casting an actress in her 40s, Connie Britton of TV's Nashville, as the sexy and scholarly love interest.  Britton is delicious in her role.
For well-played and occasionally heartwarming weekend entertainment that will leave you with a smile on your face, take a chance with This Is Where I Leave You.  Keith Price and I liked it -- and we could not stop commenting on how fierce Ms. Fonda looked in the funeral scene.  Ooh, Baby!
For you Broadway musical geeks, here's something I said to Keith after the movie about Jason Bateman based on his performance in This Is Where I Leave You:  If there was a movie version of Stephen Sondheim's Company and if Jason Bateman could sing, he'd make a good Bobby.

Think about it.


3 comments:

  1. I am so happy to read this positive, dare I say glowing, review! I have been counting down the days since I saw a commercial for This Is Where I Leave You sometime this summer. Can't wait to see it this weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for taking time to read it, Violet.

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  3. Didn't Tina Fey say something like " You can't have the one's you want and you crap on the one's who love you" in that rooftop scene? Brilliant

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