This Is Where I Leave You Review – Family Foibles


Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver


Release date: October 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The tedious gross-out gags.

Hollywood’s latest home-for-the-holidays venture, This Is Where I Leave You, strives to speak to, and for, the masses. Promising relatable situations and interesting characters, this big-budget dramedy strains and creaks whilst grounding itself. Crafting a slicker-than-shoe-polish version of reality, these movies, despite their commendable intentions, never convince. How can they be realistic, anyway? They feature ultra-wacky set pieces and ultra-popular celebrities. Even character-actor Corey Stoll, seen in the background of several recent movies and TV shows, has more money than everyone in Kansas combined.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Fuelled by Kings of Leon, American Authors, a relatable concept, and a starry cast, TIWILY‘s egregious marketing campaign highlighted the broad appeal. Given these actors’ big-and-small-screen successes, the formula seemed destined for positive results. The poster, plonking each big-name next to one another, sums up modern entertainment’s pros and cons. Sadly, the words “formula” and “conventional” linger throughout the final product. The movie, the latest in a series of familial dramedies, isn’t any better or worse than August: Osage County or The Judge. Like the aforementioned celluloid distractions, this dramedy’s reach drastically exceeds it grasp. The story kicks off with a wholly fantastical version of New York City. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio station manager living the dream. Coming home early from work, he’s shocked to discover his wife Quinn(Abigail Spencer)’s year-long affair with Judd’s favourite shock-jock/boss Wade (Dax Shepard). After three months of excessive remorse, heartache, and beard-growing, the newly divorced Judd is informed of his dad Mort’s passing. The Altman family – rounded out by matriarch Hilary (Jane Fonda), Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey), older brother Paul (Stoll), and youngest Philip (Adam Driver) – come together for the funeral. As per Mort’s last request, the family must sit Jewish mourning custom Shiva. Stuck in their old home for seven days, the Altman’s past and present quarrels collide. Amongst the chaos, several key players show up to further elevate or deflate each family member.

Jane Fonda & Debra Monk.

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s book of the same name, TIWILY feels like an all-too-literal adaptation. Handing screenplay duties over to Tropper, the movie seemingly utilises every page to fill its 103-minute run-time. The original material, perfect for novel length, is lugubriously laid out across this cumbersome script. Like many dramedies, there’s way too much going on. Throwing in more sub-plots and characters than needed, the narrative’s top-heavy structure wains half-way through. The quiet parts, despite straining against the movie’s glorious sheen, deliver subtle and genuine moments. Certain character interactions, bolstered by its engaging cast and witty dialogue, are almost worth the admission cost. Several sequences work efficiently, depicting insults and stories thrown between troubled by fun-loving people. However, crushed under the narrative’s immense weight, the central plot-strands lack emotional weight or sustenance. Bumping into school friend/manic pixie dream girl Penny (Rose Byrne), Judd’s story-line is predictable, soulless, and tepid. Drowning in an ocean of A-listers, montages, and clichés, Bateman explores yet another sad-sack character. This dramedy – lacking the class, bravado, and cockiness of Arrested Development – adds to the comedic actor’s post-TV slump. However, thanks to quick-wit and charisma, the nice-guy lead delivers a measured performance. In fact, Judd, despite his conflict’s tiresome twists and turns, is the most likeable and intriguing character. The surrounding family members, defined by specific traits (new breasts, baldness, immaturity etc.), are mean-spirited and one note.

“It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.” (Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), This Is Where I Leave You).

Rose Byrne.

Rose Byrne.

Director Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum series, The Internship) applies his hack-and-slash style to this subdued dramedy. Levy – whose  filmography includes Cheaper by the Dozen, the Pink Panther remake, and Real Steel – isn’t known for intelligence, verve, or sensitivity. Touching on adultery, familial strife, and religion, its concepts construct only silly scenarios and corny ramblings. Despite the premise, the family’s Jewish heritage is picked up and dropped without warning. Certain sequences, despite the lack of consequences or emotional resonance, deliver big laughs and nice moments. Getting high in a synagogue, Bateman, Stoll, and Driver’s characters deliver comedic and dramatic shades. Also, Fonda’s ever-lasting figure is given significant attention. Playing an open-minded writer/therapist, Fonda charges through the role. The movie serves to boost its actors’ career trajectories. Fey, known for writing and leading better comedic material, excels despite her underwhelming and manipulative sub-plot. Contending with old-flame Horry (Timothy Olyphant) (suffering permanent brain damage from an accident several years earlier), her character’s conflicts deserve more development. In addition, Phillip’s sub-plot – fighting to keep his relationship with older girlfriend/therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) going whilst fighting off former conquests – serves to kickstart slapstick gags and wild misunderstandings. Furthermore, Paul and his zany wife Annie(Kathryn Hahn)’s attempts to conceive yield even-more-implausible set pieces. Despite the misjudged material, character-actors Debra Monk and Ben Schwartz get enough time to shine.

Biting off much more than it can chew, TIWILY is hindered by a lackluster filmmaker and tiresome screenplay. Tropper, despite handing his own material, misjudges the adaptation process. Crafting too many story-lines, characters, and twists, the book-to-film translation lacks joy, weight, or warmth. Despite the distasteful, A-listers-pretending-to-be-normal phoniness, the cast succeeds. Bateman, despite playing yet another down-on-his-luck loner, is charming and affable. Meanwhile, Fey, Stoll, Fonda, and Driver craft entertaining moments. Ultimately, this self-conscious effort never surprises, inspires, or even convinces. Welcome to Hollywood!

Verdict: A charming yet cloying dramedy.

The Judge Review – In His Defence…


Director: David Dobkin

Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The winning performances.

Worst part: The underdeveloped sub-plots.

In one of legal drama The Judge‘s many courtroom scenes, our ‘antagonist’, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) delivers a line which proverbially sums up the movie. Dealing with a deadbeat defendant refusing to pay child support, the second-billed character takes away the keys to his new pick-up truck and gives them to the pregnant, white trash plaintiff. As the man complains, Judge Palmer stops him and says: “You’re standing in one of the last great cathedrals in this country, built on the premise that you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your actions”.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Oddly enough, this momentous line encompasses The Judge‘s positives and negatives. On the one hand, there has been a lot of love poured into the movie’s production and distribution. Shortly before its release, critics and audiences were given hope. With each new image and trailer, our anticipation levels grew over the prospect of Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. earning serious Oscar contention. In addition, Downey, Jr. and Duvall made for interesting interviewees. So, how does the final product compare to our overwhelming expectations? Sadly, not so well. Compared to 2014’s other Oscar hopefuls, The Judge doesn’t do enough to guarantee statuettes. However, if judged on its own, the movie delivers enough positives to scrape by. The story, despite being encapsulated by Duvall’s character, does not centre around the veteran performer. Instead, we get Robert Downey, Jr. playing Tony Stark playing a whip-smart lawyer. As one of Chicago’s most valuable defense attorneys, Henry “Hank” Palmer (Downey, Jr.) knows the ins and outs of the judicial system like no one else. Dodging morally-sound prosecutors left and right, this big-shot lawyer – whilst defending an infamous insurance scammer – gets the shock of his life. After learning of his mother’s death, he packs an overnight bag and heads straight for the modest town of Carlinville, Indiana. Juggling a messy divorce, a young child, and a valuable case, Hank doesn’t plan on staying too long after the funeral.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

The Judge‘s central conceit revolves around an ethically-inconsistent, big-city lawyer and his law-abiding father. Joseph, known to everyone in town as “Judge”, is a friendly citizen and true professional. At the wake, everyone gives Joseph a big, ol’ hug. Hank simply shakes his hand and slips back into the shadows. However, after Joseph becomes a hit-and-run murder’s prime suspect, Hank agrees to stick around. So, why do they hate each other so much? This question should have been the movie’s biggest concern. With two talented A-listers at the helm, the movie hinges on their stellar reputations and likeable personas. In fact, aided by their spirited back-and-forths about the past, present, and future, the movie excels whenever they drop their guards to shout at one another. One scene, in which Hank and Joseph conduct a shouting match whilst a record-breaking storm screeches through town, is worth the price of admission. However, I’m going to give Hollywood some advice: for the love of God, make shorter movies again! Pushing The Judge to a ridiculous 142-minute run-time, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights), makes several easily avoidable mistakes. Like Wedding Crashers, most of drama revolves around   meaningless and peculiar sub-plots. Here, the plot-threads include Joseph’s fight against cancer, Hank’s mentally-challenged brother (Jeremy Strong) and his Super-8 camera, his older brother(Vincent D’Onofrio)’s ruined baseball career, Hank’s re-connection with an old flame (Vera Farmiga), Hank butting heads with a local lawyer (Dax Shepard), the prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton), and a questionable hook-up (Leighton Meester).

“Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub” (Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Judge).

Downey, Jr., Vincent D'Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Downey, Jr., Vincent D’Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Throwing intriguing ideas across multiple story-lines, The Judge reeks of desperation, self-consciousness, and carelessness. Throughout its hodge-podge story, the tone drastically switches every few minutes. Stalling its own momentum, the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts. In addition, the movie doesn’t know what to say. Despite criticising Middle America’s wholesomeness, the movie unfairly condemns Hank for following making a living in the urban jungle. This Oscar-baiter, revelling in cliches, is an unremarkable concoction of A Few Good Men, Up in the Air, and Garden State. In fact, a wily filmmaker like Jason Reitman, Alexander Payne, or Jon Favreau would yell “objection” at its inconsistent pacing, undeveloped supporting characters, and irritating sub-plots. However, Dobkin makes several succinct directorial choices. Its visual flourishes – including Janusz Kaminski’s light-and-shadow-fuelled cinematography, Thomas Newman’s uplifting soundtrack choices (ranging from Willie Nelson to Bon Iver), and Mark Livolsi’s fluid editing – bolster certain moments whilst crafting an approachable glow. Like Jerry Maguire, the movie aptly centres around its most interesting character. The Judge – the first production from Downey, Jr. and wife Susan Downey’s production company, Team Downey – comes from good intentions. Downey, Jr., crafting one of Hollywood’s most successful comebacks, is charismatic as the cynical and pithy lead. Duvall, crafting one of Hollywood’s most inspiring careers, is brilliant in prick mode. Meanwhile, despite the lack of attention, Farmiga, D’Onofrio, and Strong deliver powerful turns.

As a homage to Hollywood’s best courtroom battles and familial dramas, The Judge strives to be relevant and award-worthy. Despite the gravitas, the story is summed up in one line: “Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub”. In fact, Downey, Jr. and Duvall do trim some fat. So, why is the movie still so long? As studio-driven Oscar bait, it unyieldingly becomes its own judge, jury, and executioner.

Verdict: A enjoyable yet inconsistent courtroom-drama.

2014 in Film: The Next Few Months


jJPlktY

Article:

2014 in Film: The Next Few Months