Shawn Levy's new film, "This Is Where I Leave You," checks off so many Hollywood boxes that you might suspect it of blatant pandering. Star-studded cast? Check. Based on best-selling novel? Check. Drama, romance, humor and pathos, all set against that instantly identifiable backdrop, the American suburb? Check, check and check.
Despite or perhaps because of all that, "This Is Where I Leave You" works marvelously. Written by Jonathan Tropper from his novel about a dysfunctional Jewish family sitting shiva for its patriarch, "This Is Where I Leave You" is the year's first real crowd pleaser, a comedy-drama that presses all the right buttons but does so with intelligence and skill. It's not too heavy, not too light -- just right for a grown-up night at the movies.
It also comes with a cherry-picked cast of actors who seem born for their roles. Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, a guy so nice he would never dream that his wife (Abigail Spencer) is sleeping with his boss, a radio shock jock played by Dax Shepard. It turns out all the Altman siblings have problems: Paul and his wife, Annie (Corey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn), can't conceive; Wendy (Tina Fey) still regrets dumping her high-school sweetheart (an endearing Timothy Olyphant); Phillip, the baby of the family, is played by a rambunctious Adam Driver. Hovering and clucking over everyone is Hillary, their grieving but still embarrassingly vibrant mother, played to perfection by Jane Fonda.
It almost goes without saying that secrets will be spilled, fights will break out and Judd will face a crucial decision (Rose Byrne plays his old flame, Penny). Even these familiar scenes, though, feel right. Tropper's witty script gives these actors some great material, and their rapport is so strong that you never doubt their familial bond. Levy, best known for his splashy "Night at the Museum" movies, deftly blends their various story lines into a coherent-feeling whole. (Shooting took place almost entirely at a single house in Munsey Park.)
"This Is Where I Leave You" might be easily dismissed as a kinder, gentler version of "The Corrections," with no larger subtext or existential angst. Sometimes, though, a little pandering is just what you need.
PLOT The members of a dysfunctional family reluctantly gather for a funeral.
CAST Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver
BOTTOM LINE Familiar suburban territory, but a dynamite cast and a smart, funny script. It's the year's first grown-up crowd pleaser.