It's hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.

It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.

There comes a moment where every one of us grows up. For some it could come when we graduate college, for some it could come when we move out on our own. Some find this feeling when they get married, others when they have children of their own. But “growing up” is a state of mind, and there is no greater enemy of that state than going back to the place your story started.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU begins by introducing us to Judd Altman (Jason Bateman). On his wife’s birthday, Judd gets home sooner than usual to discover that she is having an affair with his boss. Ordinarily, that would be the worst news a person could get in any given week…but Judd’s misery is just beginning. The next bomb is that his father has died and he needs to go back to his childhood home to mourn him with his somewhat dysfunctional family.

Despite not being particularly religious, the patriarch of the Altman family has left instructions that the family sit Shiva for him upon his death. So it is that the four Altman children – Judd, Paul (Corey Stoll), Wendy (Tina Fey), and Phillip (Adam Driver) – find themselves back in their childhood home for one week. Joining them is the bereaved widow; their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) who has made a small fortune detailing the psychology of the family in a tell-all book titled “Cradle Will Fall”.

One would believe that the grieving of a deceased father would be enough drama for one week…but what is a stay away from home without baggage? For Paul, his primary distraction comes in the form of his failure to conceive a child with his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn). For Wendy, the trouble is double-barrel. On the one hand, her very successful husband Barry seems to be countering the breadwinning he provides with a deep level of emotional detachment. On the other hand, the sight of her teenage boyfriend, Horry (Timothy Olyphant) has her confronting a sort of survivor’s guilt that she’d thought she’d long ago put to bed. Finally there is Phillip, who doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot with his life just yet, even though he probably should have. The fact that he seems to be mooching of a sugar mama named Tracy (Connie Britton) – who might as well be a stand-in for his mom – doesn’t help his case.

So with all of this in-tow, the Altmans grieve. Together. In one room. For seven days.

Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Jane Fonda
It seems as though year after year, a movie like THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is dropped into our laps. It’s a story about being an adult and returning to where you began as a child. The story deals with the difficulty of reconciling those two mindsets, and the challenge of facing up to who you are in the shadow of who you used to be. While one might believe that the familiarity of this story grants it a lesser status, I would argue the opposite. This is a place in our lives – both a physical place and a mental one – that we will all get to eventually. It’s almost a certainty. More often than not, it comes about when we aren’t fully prepared to face it (as if we ever truly are), and in that light, there are a lot of stories to be told.

Where this story chooses to toe the rubber from is the difficulty families have in growing up and growing apart. We spend so much time together in our formative years that we stay fixed in that place in each-others’ eyes…like wax statues in a museum of our life story. Sometimes those places are warranted: Many of us have family members that seem to do no growing at all no matter how old they get. However, just as often the opposite is true. Our siblings and parents evolve into different people, but we fail to see it because of how close we are to them…or how long we’ve known them…or both.

These changes – or lack thereof – checker our every interaction. They keep us seeing our family members as relatives, and prevent us from seeing them as people.

With that we live our own versions of Paul and Judd’s competition for patriarchy…or Philip’s futile attempts to break out of the amber he’s been encased in as the fuck-up baby of the brood. What really sucks is that we might very well have put those questions and quandaries behind us, but twenty-four hours in the house we grew up in coupled with the slightest challenge to our status quo makes us question it all. It’s that feeling that makes some of us wonder if we’ve gone wrong somewhere…and it’s certainly that feeling that makes Judd and Wendy wonder if they’d hitched their stars to the wrong people.

However, that’s where our family is supposed to be there for us. They are supposed to be the ones that come to us when we’re feeling our most fucked-up. They are supposed to help us through our failed marriages, our bankrupt businesses, our difficulties in forging families of our own. They are the people who will always have our back in a fight, and do whatever possible to rekindle the fires of our most-promising selves. Like the Altmans, most families do this in a wildly dysfunctional way…but we get there. Eventually. Where familial support is concerned, it’s like driving from Seattle to New York by way of Texas.

Some of THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU will feel familiar. Some of it will feel preposterous. These missteps are what hold it back from being something great. They do not, however, hold it back from being something good. Its goodness comes from its heart, and it has enough of that to spare. It’s like that diner back home you used to hang out in or take your high school girlfriend on a date to. The food here might not be the best, but there’s a comforting feeling of home that makes up for so many shortcomings.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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