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This Is Where I Leave You: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

This Is Where I Leave You (2014) movie poster This Is Where I Leave You

Theatrical Release: September 19, 2014 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Shawn Levy / Writer: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay & novel)

Cast: Jason Bateman (Judd Altman), Tina Fey (Wendy Altman), Jane Fonda (Hilary Altman), Adam Driver (Phillip Altman), Rose Byrne (Penny Moore), Corey Stoll (Paul Altman), Kathryn Hahn (Annie Altman), Connie Britton (Tracy Sullivan), Timothy Olyphant (Horry Callen), Dax Shepard (Wade Beaufort), Debra Monk (Linda Callen), Abigail Spencer (Quinn Altman), Ben Schwartz (Rabbi Charles Grodner aka Boner), Aaron Lazar (Barry Weissman), Cade Lappin (Cole), Will Swenson (Younger Mort Altman)

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Director Shawn Levy has experienced his greatest success on childish movies: Cheaper by the Dozen, the Night at the Museum series, and PG-13 works like Date Night and Real Steel you'd feel comfortable calling "family films."
Levy's first foray into R-rated fare came as a producer of The Watch, a universally panned 2012 alien invasion comedy that bombed at the box office despite plentiful star power. That track record doesn't inspire confidence in This Is Where I Leave You, an adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's 2009 novel of the same name that is clearly intended exclusively for adults.

This is like the big studio version of an indie dramedy. Its $19.8 million reported budget just barely stayed under the $20 M cap needed to remain eligible for Independent Spirit Awards and is at least three times more than you would have to spend on such a film. The costs were surely driven up by the cast assembled, which includes actors like Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Rose Byrne, who are all known for bigger mainstream comedies. They are joined by a couple of indie-seasoned actors in Corey Stoll and Adam Driver, but that's not enough to give this project indie cred. Lacking the passion, sincerity, smarts, and daringness for which good indie films are celebrated, This feels like Levy is merely playing indie filmmaker in the safest and most comfortable way possible with no less than productive giant Warner Bros. Pictures footing the bill.

In "This Is Where I Leave You", the Altmans (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman, and Adam Driver) sits shiva to honor the family patriarch's dying wish.

The film opens with Judd Altman (Bateman) leaving work early with a birthday cake in his hand. It's intended for his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer), whom he comes home to find in bed with Wade Beaufort (Dax Shepard), the shock jock whose show he produces. The affair, which has been going on for a year, simultaneously spoils his career, a friendship, and his marriage. Depressed and growing a beard, Judd gets a call from his sister Wendy (Fey), informing him their father has just died, sooner than expected.

Dad's death brings the entire Altman clan back to their suburban New York hometown, where their mother (Jane Fonda) insists on honoring her husband's dying wish: for the family to sit shiva. That Jewish custom calls for seven days without work or travel, which is no easy task for this group, who object on the grounds that Dad was an atheist. Needless to say, bickering, alcohol, and secrets ensue. Every family member brings with them some major baggage: ne'er-do-well youngest son Phillip (Driver) introduces his wealthy, significantly older girlfriend (Connie Britton), Paul (Stoll) and Annie (Kathryn Hahn) wear their fertility concerns on their sleeve, Wendy wrestles with a failing marriage and her feelings for Horry Callen (Timothy Olyphant), the forgetful brain-damaged neighbor who works in the family's sporting goods store, and Mom, who embarrassed her kids with a best-selling tell-all about their raising, flaunts her new breast implants.

Judd keeps his own marital woes secret, chalking up Quinn's absence to a bulging disc. But it's only a matter of time before the painful truth emerges. Just as he is about to embark on a new beginning with Penny Moore (Byrne), the perfect local girl who's still teaching ice skating classes in town, he gets a bombshell from his past dropped on him that complicates his relationship status.

Siblings Wendy (Tina Fey) and Judd (Jason Bateman) have a heart-to-heart talk on the roof. Ne'er-do-well youngest child Phillip (Adam Driver) introduces his family to his wealthy older girlfriend (Connie Britton).

On paper, This probably doesn't sound that bad. A studio comedy full of characters that are actually developed as real adults? Pretty rare. Unfortunately, what might have worked on Tropper's pages does not play well on screen. The film is off-putting from the start and heavy-handed throughout. Levy relies extensively on an uncharacteristically maudlin score by Michael Giacchino and a number of needle drops (from Coldplay to Cyndi Lauper) that required no impassioned finagling to license.
The comedy consists of broad gags, like the men getting stoned in a temple classroom to the triggering of a fire alarm and sprinklers. The drama unfolds with on-the-nose dialogue musing about where these people are in life. It's as if Levy wants to give us his version of The Royal Tenenbaums, but instead gives us a much lesser version of August: Osage County.

One cannot be surprised by the disappointing results. Levy's films have only been as good as their foundations. The premises of Night at the Museum and Cheaper by the Dozen are too promising to yield anything less than a fun time with the right actors. You could easily argue that those slight throwbacks would be quite a bit better with someone more imaginative at the helm. Levy has repeatedly benefitted from fine casting, but even the most charismatic of entertainers can't elevate a concept that isn't cracking on the page: the eminently likable Fey and Steve Carell didn't make Date Night more than an okay diversion, while the reunion of Frat Packers Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson wasn't nearly enough to make Google campus comedy The Internship tolerable.

Levy again does well by casting in This, rounding up extremely watchable actors to create a convincing family dynamic. It is tough to believe that Bateman and Fey haven't crossed creative paths before apart from a 2005 "Saturday Night Live" episode and separate scenes of The Invention of Lying. Byrne continues to impress with her versatility; it's astonishing she still isn't quite a household name after all the high-profile, high-quality work she has put in in a variety of genres. Driver does fine on a bigger stage than he's used to, preparing him for the much bigger stage he is headed to in Star Wars: Episode VII.

Nonetheless, This just does not entertain and move as it intends to. The whole thing feels calculated, manipulative, and inorganic. The instincts that make Levy so reliable a commercial filmmaker do not serve him well on this character-based material that demands a gentle human touch.

Unsurprisingly, the film set a personal worst for the director at the box office. Despite that, Levy's got to feel better about its $34 million domestic gross than the comparable takes of the more widely released, significantly more expensive Internship and The Watch. Days before Levy looks to rebound with the opening of the third and final Night at the Museum, Warner released This Is Where I Leave You to DVD and Blu-ray combo pack.

This Is Where I Leave You: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

This Is Where I Leave You has the look of a polished studio film. Its 2.40:1 Blu-rays transfer does show a little grain in places, but mostly remains clean, sharp, vibrant, and satisfying. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio presents dialogue competently and avoids turning up the volume too loud on the score and music, though it remains loud enough to clearly identify.

Jane Fonda discusses getting reacquainted with big screen comedy in "The Matriarch." Alternate takes of Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Boner are preserved in the only bonus feature to make both DVD and Blu-ray.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with Points of Departure, a section comprised of four short topical featurettes, which all dispense interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. "The Brother-Sister Bond" (5:38) examines the relationship between Bateman and Fey's characters. "The Matriarch" (3:59) celebrates the characterization of Jane Fonda, who discusses getting acquainted with today's comedy filmmaking style. "Sibling Rivals" (5:04) considers the other two Altman brothers, with numerous submitting praise to the actors who play them. "Choreographed Chaos" (5:38) takes a more general approach to the filming, with lots of B roll.

"The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner" (6:27) centers on Ben Schwartz's character. It serves up remarks from the actor, his castmates, the author, and the director plus looks at Schwartz's alternate takes and deleted moments.

Annie (Kathryn Hahn) takes extreme measures in her quest to conceive in this extended scene. Director-producer Shawn Levy and author-screenwriter Jonathan Tropper come across easy to please in the film's commentary and making-of featurettes.

Six deleted/extended scenes (13:34) are included. Two of the extensions further develop Judd's relationship with his ex-girlfriend/current sister-in-law Annie, while others explore the possibility of

Judd and Quinn making up, and give Fonda an opportunity to do some more acting.

Next comes a feature audio commentary, pretentiously titled "The Narrative Voice", by director-producer Shawn Levy and author-screenwriter Jonathan Tropper. The two, especially Levy, are so enthusiastic and approving about everything they see, but their overflowing passion ensures the track remains screen-specific, on topic, and full of information. Among the topics discussed are actors' improvisational contributions, Jane Fonda's audition and prosthetic breasts, Levy's first nude scene and R rating, the inspirations for Tropper's book, filming in Westchester County, and the non-negotiability of Bateman's beard.

Also falling under the heading "The Narrative Voice" is a brief discussion between the same two men (4:28), which addresses the journey from book to film in a succinct (and slightly touchy-feely) manner and is complemented by still more making-of footage.

The same disc that is available on its own, the DVD only includes "The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner" in the way of extras.

The menu plays score over a wide poster image. As usual, Warner authors the disc to resume unfinished playback, but not to let you set bookmarks on your favorite scenes.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Annabelle. The DVD starts with a Truth anti-tobacco ad, plays those trailers, and proceeds to advertise Mad Max: Fury Road, The Judge, and Horrible Bosses 2.

An insert supplying your Digital HD UltraViolet code joins the two plainly-labeled discs inside the slipcovered, eco-friendly keepcase.

Returning home allows Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) the chance to reconnect with childhood friend Penny Moore (Rose Byrne), who teaches skating at a charmingly lit ice rink.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This Is Where I Leave You boasts a large, appealing cast that is nonetheless unable to save an adult dramedy that alternates between an unfunny comedy and an unmoving drama. While a major studio film driven by human characters is cause for celebration, this heavy-handed affair doesn't come anywhere close to satisfying or displaying the inventiveness of smaller films it is modeled after.

Warner's combo pack provides a fine presentation of the film plus a lot of bonus material, but I can't recommend it to anyone who doesn't already know they like the movie.

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Related Reviews:
2014 Movies: Magic in the Moonlight A Merry Friggin' Christmas Lullaby Are You Here Begin Again
August: Osage County The Royal Tenenbaums Grosse Pointe Blank Jeff, Who Lives at Home Crazy, Stupid, Love. Death at a Funeral
Jason Bateman: The Switch Identity Thief Horrible Bosses Hancock | Adam Driver: Frances Ha Inside Llewyn Davis
Kathryn Hahn: Our Idiot Brother Step Brothers | Corey Stoll: Midnight in Paris | Timothy Olyphant: The Crazies
Tina Fey: Muppets Most Wanted Megamind | Jane Fonda: Barbarella Lee Daniels' The Butler
Directed by Shawn Levy: Real Steel Date Night Night at the Museum Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

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Reviewed December 18, 2014.



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