Film review: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ drowns its emotion in dumb comedy

Sibling rivalry: Fey, Bateman, Stoll and Driver (from left) mourn and squabble.

Two and a half stars

This Is Where I Leave You Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda. Directed by Shawn Levy. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Weddings and funerals make reliable devices for tossing a bunch of characters together and ensuring that they have to deal with each other for a while. This Is Where I Leave You, an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper, takes this idea a step further, focusing on a secular-yet-Jewish family whose patriarch’s dying wish was that his widow (Jane Fonda) and children sit shiva for him—meaning that they’re all trapped in the house for a full week. That’s especially problematic for Judd (Jason Bateman), who’s still ducking calls from his wife (Abigail Spencer) after catching her in bed with his shock-jock boss (Dax Shepard). But there are also mini-dramas afoot involving his sister Wendy (Tina Fey), a married woman still hung up on an old boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who was neurologically damaged in a car accident years earlier; his brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who’s desperately trying to impregnate wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn); and his much younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver), an immature hellraiser who shows up with a wealthy cougar (Connie Britton) on his arm.

Given the resoundingly middlebrow nature of the project, it’s surprising that it was entrusted to director Shawn Levy, who’s previously made such broad comedies as The Internship and Night at the Museum. Laughs are few and far between—typical jokes involve Fonda’s mom embarrassing her kids at the wake by excitedly discussing the size of their late father’s penis, or Paul and Alice having noisy sex upstairs that’s broadcast to mourners below via a baby monitor. When the movie calms down and allows its characters to interact one-on-one rather than as a shrill group, however, it manages the occasional tender moment.

Bateman has a strong rapport with Rose Byrne, playing his one-that-got-away, and Britton makes an impression as the only person under this roof who’s strong enough not to get mired in frantic nonsense. Alas, that mature sensibility mostly gets buried underneath crass antics. In the end, there are two utterly different movies at war in This Is Where I Leave You, and it’s the wrong one that wins.

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