Overview: Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, This Is Where I Leave You follows an estranged family as they sit shiva after their father’s death. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2014. R. 103 minutes.
As An Adaptation: This Is Where I Leave You was always my least favorite Jonathan Tropper book. Don’t get me wrong; I love Tropper. He’s one of my favorite writers, but this story always felt jam-packed with too many intensely troubled characters that didn’t get nearly enough individual developmental moments, and it had far, far too many annoying try-hard attempts for big cinematic moments. The movie, unfortunately, suffers from the exact same flaws — basically, too many characters, not enough time — so in a disappointing way, I guess this is a pretty good book-to-film adaptation.
The Cast: I could talk all day about the sheer amount of talent that signed on for this project. Jason Bateman. Tina Fey. Connie Britton. Adam Driver. Rose Byrne. Who can blame them? The story is filled with potentially beautiful, emotional moments for each of the actors, and those moments are easily the film’s greatest strength. One day I’m going to stop being surprised when Bateman blows a dramatic role out of the water, but it is not this day, and I remain in awe of him. He’s wonderful as the lead, and he is raw and believable in a way that no other actor in the film manages to touch. Adam Driver comes the closest, and though he’s handed some pretty strange material to work with at times, he is effectively all at once as funny, charming, and infuriating as his character, the foolish younger brother, should be.
What’s Missing?: Still, even in moments where the acting is positively breathtaking, there’s something missing in This Is Where I Leave You. Good writing. This film’s script isn’t at all impressive, despite the fact that Jonathan Tropper, whose novels have consistently impressed, penned the screenplay. This proves the hard truth that just because you’re a good novelist doesn’t mean you’ll be a good screenwriter, and vice versa. Several scenes drag on just a bit too long. It is enough for Wendy to sadly gaze out the window at the oblivious man she loves. He doesn’t need to look up, notice her, and awkwardly wave in response. It adds nothing, and the audience I was with actually giggled at how uncomfortable and forced the scene felt. Similarly uneasy moments occurred repeatedly through this movie.
I’ve said it before and I know I’ll say it again: Without great writing, you can’t have a great film. Even with a stellar cast, impressive acting, and solid source material, a weak script keeps This Is Where I Leave You from being the film it had the potential to be. What a shame.