★★ | This Is Where I Leave You

The ‘leaving’ in the title of this rather frenetic comedy refers to death and divorce and a few other departures in between. Everybody in the Altman family has both issues and secrets and the set up for us (and them) to discover them all is when the patriarch dies and his widow (their mother) insists that they must all sit the traditional Jewish Shiva even though none of them has been inside a synagogue for decades.

Shiva means sitting there together for 7 days without exception or excuse and talking about life and death, and this family have a lot of it on their minds. Four days prior Judd just discovered his wife in bed with his boss and had walked out on both his marriage and his job. Judd’s eldest brother Paul has been trying to get his wife Annie pregnant for some time now and maybe firing blanks, so she looks for an alternative ‘donor’ in her ex-boyfriend, who just happens to be Judd. The youngest brother Phillip who is still just a big kid at heart shows up with his older cougar girlfriend/future fiancé who he met when she was his therapist. The 4th sibling is Wendy, the mother of two, and whose workaholic husband has a cell phone attached to his ear permanently, whilst she is still carrying a torch over Harry the man next door who was her childhood sweetheart and who she dumped after a serious car accident which left him with brain damaged.

The only one who seems prepared to talk openly and frankly is the mother who proudly flaunts her new breast implants and incessantly hawks the best-selling book that she wrote some years ago based on all her children’s secrets. Naturally, it turns out that she has a big secret too, but this, the most surprising one is not revealed until almost the end.

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It’s all a little too much with an over-abundance of clichéd plot strands that are at best mildly amusing but in reality, give the overall feeling of an ill-conceived TV situation comedy that is too eager to please. Its one big saving grace is the stunning array of talented actors that make up the cast and do the very best with the script that they have been served up. Jason Bateman as Judd stoically takes most of the heavy load as the main character, and Adam Driver, Corey Stoll and the wonderful Tina Fey play his siblings. Timothy Oliphant is the man next door, Dax Shepherd bares all as the cheating Boss, Kathryn Hann is the motherless sister in law and Connie Britton as the put-upon cougar girlfriend. Mother is played by the great (and elegant looking) Jane Fonda but there are moments when you are convinced that she has just phoned her performance in.

It’s one of those movies you will be happy to watch on a wet Winter evening when there is nothing else that grabs you on the TV, as its really not bad. It’s just that it could/should have been so much better

Opens on the 24th October 2014