By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You know those big family gatherings that go too far and go on too long but still manage to make you grateful that you showed up?

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Well, This Is Where I Leave You is a lot like that.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

It’s an ensemble comedy-drama that has its share of awkward or questionable moments or occurrences, but, like the wildly dysfunctional family it portrays, it’s still a fun visit with this troubled clan.

When the Jewish father of the four Altman siblings dies, his wife (Jane Fonda), a child psychologist who wrote about her own kids -– to their dismay — in her best-selling book, tells her grown children that, although their father was an atheist, it was his dying request that the family gather and spend a week sitting shiva, the Jewish tradition that has the family gathering, welcoming guests, and communally grieving.

Surprised and reluctantly, they comply and bring their emotional baggage to their childhood suburban home.

Talk-radio producer Judd (Jason Bateman) has just caught his wife (Abigail Spencer) cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard) and has reconnected with his high school sweetheart (Rose Byrne).  Wendy (Tina Fey) is unhappily married to a workaholic and reunites with an ex (Timothy Olyphant) who lives next door and was brain-damaged during a car accident.

Carefree slacker-stoner Phillip (Adam Driver), the baby bro, shows up with a much older woman (Connie Britton) who used to be his therapist.  And eldest brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who worked with dad in the family sporting-goods business, and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn), who used to date Judd, reveal that they have been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby for a long time.

The above is the collection of situations when the mourners arrive.  By the time they leave, they will experience a landslide of reconnections and complications and confessions and revelations.

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The recent film that comes to mind as a thematic companion piece to is August: Osage County, while among the somewhat more distant brethren are Home for the Holidays and The Family Stone.  In all of them, we bathe in the warmth of family even while we wince at the excess and outrage.

For director Shawn Levy, This Is Where I Leave You represents a move from mass-appeal broad comedy (the Night at the Museum flicks, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, Date Night, Real Steel, The Internship) in a more personal, emotional, and mature direction.

Thus this is a family psychodrama with elements of sex farce.

Furthermore, this represents an improvement for Levy in that the comedic elements here not only work better than their dramatic counterparts but have a resonance and impact that most of his previous comedies have sorely lacked.

Jonathan Tropper based his screenplay on his 2009 novel of the same name, in which the family was named Foxman (here changed to Altman).  And although the Altmans’ array of conflicts are perhaps resolved too neatly and the inclusion of raunch is a tad forced, it’s fun to observe this highly watchable cast being put through their paces, and gratifying to see them reward director Levy by delivering a decent number of vigorous laughs.

So we’ll sit shiva for 2½ stars out of 4.  This good-grief comedy, as messy as most families and life itself, still manages to entertain and nourish even as it overfeeds us.

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