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Home for a Blu-ray Review: This Is Where I Leave You

December 19, 2014Ben MK

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All in the family...

Dysfunctional families have long been a source of entertainment in Hollywood, both on-screen and off. And in the case of the former, it's usually the premise of the dysfunctional family reunion that filmmakers keep cycling back to time and time again. Such is This is Where I Leave You, a film by director Shawn Levy and based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper, which centers on four adult siblings who return home to support their mother, in the wake of their father's passing. But while the concept may feel all too familiar, it's the standout cast that make this a movie worth watching.


The Film Although it's most certainly an ensemble effort, the film's focus — at least from a narrative standpoint — is on Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), a New York City radio show producer whose personal life self-implodes, after he comes home early one day to catch his wife (Abigail Spencer) off guard with a birthday cake, only to be surprised to catch her in bed with his douchebag of a boss (Dax Sheppard).

Judd's bad fortune is compounded when his father, Mort, dies, and — in accordance with Jewish tradition — his mother, best-selling author Hillary (Jane Fonda) summons him, his harried sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), and their brothers, irresponsible Phillip (Adam Driver) and overbearing Paul (House of Cards' Corey Stoll), back to their childhood home, to honor their father's memory by sitting shiva for seven days.

But while his siblings have brought their families and significant others with them — Wendy's workaholic husband, Barry (Aaron Lazar), and their two young children, Paul's wife (and Judd's ex), Annie (Kathryn Hahn), and Phillip's therapist/fiancée, Tracy (Connie Britton) — Judd struggles to keep his impending divorce a secret. Only Wendy knows the truth, and she won't stop berating her brother until he gets his problems off his chest.

Of course, it's not long until the drama ensues, with Hillary's children bickering over who should take over their father's sporting goods business and everyone questioning the sincerity of Phillip and Tracy's relationship. Meanwhile, Judd has an unexpected reunion with Penny (Rose Byrne), who once harbored a childhood crush on him, and Wendy faces up to the guilt that's been weighing on her for abandoning Horry (Timothy Olyphant), her former boyfriend, years earlier.

Throw an unexpected pregnancy, an out-of-the-blue lesbian relationship and the Altman siblings' childhood-friend-turned-rabbi, "Boner" (Ben Schwartz), into the mix, and the end result is a movie that's evocative of just about every other family dramedy out there. The good news is that Tropper (who adapted his book for the screen) and Levy (who's better known for lighthearted romps like the Night at the Museum series) at least know what makes such films tick, and they see to it that the story lives up to the audience's expectations of the genre, with intersecting character threads intertwined with moments of levity and snarky humor.

The real highlight of the movie, however, is its game cast. Much to their credit, they avoid coming off as stereotypes and caricatures, especially Bateman, who brings a surprising amount of depth and humanity to his character, and Fey, in her best film role yet (Muppets Most Wanted notwithstanding). Other notable mentions include Driver, who seems to be popping up in every other movie these days, and Byrne, who has a relatively minor part but still manages to make a big impression. But in general, the entire cast is extremely watchable, a fact that goes a long way to ensuring that the film is as well.

Audio/Visual Fidelity There's nothing overtly memorable about This Is Where I Leave You's cinematography or sound design, being the low-key, dialogue-driven film that it is. Still, Warner's Blu-ray release boasts quite an adept A/V presentation. The hi-def transfer is sharp and crisply detailed, bolstered by the presence of a light amount of film grain, vibrant colors and excellent contrast, with no real indication of image problems such as macroblocking, aliasing, etc. At the same time, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does ample justice to the film's soundstage. Dialogue is highly intelligible throughout, sparing environmental effects are appropriately convincing and the smattering of songs (from artists like Coldplay, Alexi Murdoch and Distant Cousins) sounds great.

Special Features Warner's Blu-ray release includes DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film, plus 45 minutes of HD extras. Grouped under the heading Points of Departure is where you'll find four brief featurettes: The Brother-Sister Bond is a 6-minute piece about the relationship between Bateman and Fey's characters; The Matriarch is a 4-minute look at Fonda's character; the 5-minute Sibling Rivals examines Driver and Stoll's characters and their tense relationship; and Choreographed Chaos spends its six minutes focusing on director Shawn Levy and the integral role he played in getting the film made. Next up is the six-minute The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner, which is a closer look at Schwartz's character and the actor's improvisations. There's also 14 minutes of Deleted Scenes (six in total), which is followed by The Narrative Voice: A Discussion with Shawn Levy and Jonathan Tropper, a four-minute interview with Levy and Tropper, in which the pair discuss adapting the book for the screen, how the movie differs from the novel and tailoring the screen version to the cast. This also ties in with The Narrative Voice: A Commentary with Shawn Levy and Jonathan Tropper, a feature-length audio commentary in which the two expand on the topics touched on in the previous featurette.

The Bottom Line As a film, This Is Where I Leave You does little to add to the genre, delivering more or less what moviegoers have come to expect from comedy-dramas with a familial focus. Its cast, on the other hand, are another story altogether, as their charisma and chemistry help to elevate the movie above the status quo. Factor in first-rate audio and video and a fairly respectable slate of bonus features, and that makes This Is Where I Leave You on Blu-ray a solid choice for viewers in the mood for a few laughs, a few tears and a whole lot of sentiment.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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