Review: 'This Is Where I Leave You'

Something the movies have taught me: families that say outrageous things to one another on normally taboo subjects rarely actually speak their minds. So, cut to reaction shots of outsiders looking scandalized as Mom discusses the size of her late husband's sex organ, but good luck finding an older brother giving a younger one a simple word of encouragement, even though everyone knows that he wants to.

This is just one of the many annoying clichés you'll find in “This Is Where I Leave You,” a sappy dramedy about an extended family reconnecting after the death of its patriarch. Unlike last year's “August: Osage County,” which got really dark but had some killer lines, this is a more toned-down, agreeable affair. Tina Fey is in the film, for heaven's sake, and I love her to pieces, but by now we know to expect something humdrum when she's on a movie screen.

Our eyes into the Altman clan belong to Jed (Jason Bateman), an organized fuddy-duddy whose life is spun around when he catches his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard, as a “Man Show”-esque radio DJ.) Then his sister (Tina Fey) tells him Dad has died so he heads to upstate New York to observe “shiva,” a Jewish tradition where the immediate family communally grieves and accepts guests.

The shiva set-up comes across really forced and the opening act of the film feels like a play. The basic vibe is “we will all sit here on these specific chairs and now we will talk." Two other brothers appear – stern Corey Stoll and irresponsible baby Adam Driver – plus everyone's got needy significant others, there's a toddler who poops a lot, a lovable gal who never left home (Rose Byrne) and let's not forget the neighbors across the street. (Timothy Olyphant plays Tina Fey's handsome ex-boyfriend who suffered a head injury -- so he's wacky but practically has a halo around him.) At first you may think you need a flowchart to keep track of everyone, but since this movie is really just a million and one moments of people talking bluntly about one another, it fits together quickly.

Ostensibly running the show is Jane Fonda and, I'm sorry to say this, but the reason you don't see her in too many movies these days is that she's stagey and terrible. We can only assume every other actress in her age range read this feeble script and passed. She's a feelings-heavy libertine, but the movie spends more time making gags about her enhanced bust than offering insight into a newly widowed woman's world.

“This Is Where I Leave You” is not a complete disaster, though. The budding romance between the emotionally crippled Bateman and Rose Byrne is sweet, though that's something that springs from their star charisma, not the forced, meager script. Bateman keeps calling Byrne “crazy” and Byrne refers to herself as a “crazy girl,” but she exhibits no unusual attributes at all. She likes to ice skate. Is ice skating crazy? I never got that memo. But it does afford a few romantic moments at the rink as '80s music by Psychedelic Furs and Cindi Lauper pelts our stars with nostalgia. Some of the sibling stuff is good (they smoke a joint in temple!) but, again, this is almost entirely because people like Adam Driver and Tina Fey are incapable of being unlikable, even when they are playing annoying characters.

“This Is Where I Leave You” is the very definition of “not my cup of tea,” but even making that allowance I can safely call it sub-par work. “Everyone is so unhappy,” Fey says at one point, perched atop her family's mansion overlooking the manicured lawn. In Woody Allen's brilliant “Stardust Memories” the Allen stand-in Sandy Bates, after a screening of “Bicycle Thieves,” explains how there are varying stratas of anxiety and desperation dependent on economic realities. What he's basically saying is “I know I shouldn't be whining about something so insignificant as my love life, but here I go anyway.” There is not a drop of such reflection in this entitled and obnoxious enterprise. That scenes are set in a reform Synagogue, the very epicenter of such introspection (cf. The Coens' “A Serious Man”) makes this a double-embarrassment.

SCORE: 3.9/10