This Is Where I Leave You could have been a tension-filled chamber room drama if the Altmans had actually heeded tradition. However, Jonathan Tropper’s adaptation of his 2009 novel of the same name ignores the cinematic possibilities of locking together five adults and various spouses and progeny in one space, and instead wanders hither and thither. Every single family member is saddled with A Problem that takes them frequently out of their family home. Judd (Jason Bateman) has walked in on his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) having sex with his colleague. Wendy (Tina Fey) is the unhappy mother of two. Paul (Corey Stoll) and his wife Annie (Kathryn Hann) are desperately trying to have a baby. Phillip (Adam Driver) is an overgrown kid with an older girlfriend and a wandering eye.
The matriarch (Jane Fonda) has had a breast enhancement procedure and, despite graphic testimony about her late partner’s sexual abilities, looks about as upset as she would at missing a hair appointment.
We are in the dysfunctional-is-the-new-normal zone, in which the family reunion becomes a vomitarium. The Altmans spew out profane and cruel things, and some of the verbalisation is deliciously sharp and honest. But since this is a family yarn dipped in fabric softener rather than acid, Levy and Tropper play unpleasantness for giggles.
Dining table conversations revolve around masturbation and menstruation because they are meant to be funny rather than revealing. Marriages teeter on the brink only so that former boyfriends and girlfriends who are conveniently lurking around can be given something to do. An inheritance dispute is the perfect excuse for some brotherly bonding. The Altmans might be way ahead of the Osbournes and Kardashians in terms of letting their private moments hang out, but the movie is as profound as a reality show in its exploration of family dynamics. The knives are always out, but they leave no wounds.
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