The movie, This is Where I Leave You, is hilarious. Actually, it’s a comedic version of The Judge. The similarities are quite striking except that where The Judge is dramatic, somber, and poignant, This is Where I Leave You, is quirky, ironic, and farcical. Where Hank Palmer (the main character in The Judge) is arrogant, sarcastic, and distant, Judd Altman is sympathetic, confused, and somewhat pathetic. Where Hank is stoically divorcing his wife, Judd has lost his job because he caught his wife in bed with his boss. Where the Palmer family has many enemies around town, the Altmans have a very supportive community. The only way this movie could have been funnier would be if Judd Altman was played by Robert Downey Jr. Not that Jason Bateman doesn’t do a fantastic job; it would just make the comparison that much better. In The Judge, it is the mother who has died; in Where I Leave You, the father has died.
Dax Shepard is in both movies and proves to be an extremely diverse actor. In The Judge, he plays a mild-mannered, conservative, part-time lawyer, part-time store owner. In Where I Leave You, he plays a bold, womanizing, jerk of a disc jockey. You can’t get much more diverse than that. He is totally believable in both movies. In fact, it took me a while to click to the fact that it was the same actor. I knew he was in it, I just didn’t connect it at first.
While Judge Palmer had an autocratic and dogmatic love for his boys, Jane Fonda as Hillary Altman (the mother) is a bit pushy and manipulative but loves her kids, encourages them that everything will be fine, and is more than a little ‘off the wall’. Where the judge is dying, Hillary is about to start living a new phase of her life. A psychiatrist, Hillary’s tell-all book about the children growing up (Cradle and All) helped keep the family sporting goods store afloat much of the time.
Adam Driver plays the extremely juvenile youngest brother of the clan, both vulgar and sentimental, whose psychiatrist (played by Connie Britton who I recognized from Bruno Gianelli’s re-election team in West Wing) has fallen in love with him and is a big fan of his mother’s book.
The family reunites, not just for the funeral, but apparently for the deceased’s final wish — that they celebrate shiva, a 7-day celebration where the family sit on uncomfortable seats and host the community. One of the funniest scenes is when the three boys end up in a classroom in the temple during the memorial service smoking a joint (medicinal, found in the pocket of the deceased’s jacket pocket being worn by Judd for the occasion) and eventually set off the sprinkler system causing the evacuation of the temple.
The plot follows Judd through a transformation from “not doing complicated” to starting to enjoy complicated and starting to change his life. For the better. It is based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and directed by Shawn Levy. A lot of reviewers have panned this movie or worse but if you are expecting an extremely funny light comedy it won’t disappoint you. It’s not a movie you have to think about much; you just have to bring your funny bone with you. * * * *