I went into This Is Where I Leave You with trepidation, mostly having to do with its director, Shawn Levy. The man behind such standard-lowering hits as Cheaper By the Dozen and the Night at the Museum movies, Levy is the filmmaker version of that old saying: To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
In Levy's case, the tool of choice is a reflexive jokiness, occasionally layered with schmaltz. So my conundrum is whether I liked This Is Where I Leave You because of or in spite of Levy.
Don't get me wrong: This Is Where I Leave You isn't a great movie. But it's an enjoyable one, an emotional comedy that earns its lump in the throat and most of its laughs.
Levy's worst impulses can be seen in a running gag involving a potty-training toddler, who brings his little chamber pot with him everywhere. You can also see it in the comic laxness in what should have been a much funnier scene involving adult siblings sneaking out of a service at a synagogue to go smoke a joint in a Sunday school classroom. The act itself is the joke, instead of finding something deeper and less trite in the humor.
TIWILY works as well as it does because of an outstanding cast, which plays the tragedy as well as the comedy. The result is more poignant than you'd expect without being too sloppy about it.
The darkness comes from the film's set-up: The patriarch of the Altman family has died and his four children are summoned for a week of shiva (the Jewish mourning tradition that lasts seven days). This was their father's final wish, according to their mother (Jane Fonda), who gathers her scrappy clan together at the family home.
This review continues on my website.