“This Is Where I Leave You” (2014) + Family Drama Essentials

Director: Shawn Levy | Screenplay: Jonathan Tropper

I find my family annoying. After trips down memory lane and nagging questions about my current affairs – I’m over them. But as the family black sheep, my annoyance runs deeper. It’s almost second nature to resist them; it’s my family role.

Family Drama
Essentials

Families are the best example of an ensemble cast. Everyone has different but important roles. “This is Where I Leave You” reunites a family of five with Jane Fonda as the momma bear. Striking close similarity to 2013’s “August: Orange County,” it sadly falls flat in one key area: drama.

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Death as Disaster

The horrible event no one ever wants to experience interrupts the daily lives of the Altman family, unraveling buried emotions and memories. In “This is Where I Leave You,” Jane Fonda holds her kids hostage for Shiva, a weeklong Jewish mourning period, despite them not being Jewish. It’s enough to stop the family from leaving but does little to propel the story forward or provoke character’s out of their fixed states.

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The Glue That Bonds

After disruption to the norm, something deeper must arise to bond the family together. Otherwise, character’s end up staying on their own island and never really have to show themselves.

“This is where I leave you” failed at using Shiva as a conflict device to unhinge the family and get drama to unfold naturally. It loosely guided the characters actions or imposed much inconvenience.

Nitpicking Festivities

Family asks too many questions and we all have our own way to deter the uncomfortable preying. In “This Is Where I Leave You,” you’ll notice a weird trend of everyone being super aware and also, nonreactive to their life’s headlines. It was impossible to experience any visceral emotion with such inauthenticity from the characters.

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Example: The youngest brother, Phillip, assumed the dual role of being a royal jerk but also a man wanting deep change. The problem was that his intentions yo-yo’d; genuine one moment then not. It should’ve made for a rich, complicated character but didn’t since he had no character arc. Instead, he was questionably bipolar.

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Example: Wendy, Tina Fey’s character, was a ghost. The worst parts of her life were merely bullet points; she knew what was wrong but felt no way about fixing it. Her ‘normal’ included a crappy husband and unfulfilling motherhood journey. Nothing new there. So, annoyingly, she represented a figurine rather than a real person with regrets, expectations or a burning desire to be or do more.

Takeaway: Messed up character’s are great but if they don’t care about anything or refuse to change, who are we, as the audience, to care?

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Hot Boiling Water: Breakdowns matter

This family lost a father and husband. Yet nobody cried, shouted, got pissy, crazy or even. They all sat still as their love lives started to unravel before them. They’d give their sarcastic rhetoric and accept their shitty circumstances with little protest. They all had juicy dilemmas to sort through but cheated their way out of dealing with it, almost using some sort of “How and When Characters React” instruction manual. It made no fun for watching.

Takeaway: People hardly know how to deal with their emotions; most of us bottle them up. But when the water boils over, we lose it. And that’s when audiences get lost in a character, that’s when they become human to us.

Secrets are good to keep but only if you tell me first… and if it matters.

The film had several secrets but none were given a premise or proper buildup. When revealed, it didn’t hold any punch. It was simply became downloadable data for the family’s history book. Total snooze fest.

Takeaway: Any decent family will have a secret or two but in storytelling, they must be relevant to the story at hand in order for conflict to arise from it and, in turn, hook audiences. Otherwise, it becomes irrelevant, random information.

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Family Matters

“This is where I leave you” teaches little about family. It doesn’t make you wanna call home to Momma or book a therapy session. There was just nothing to emotionally latch onto to connect to with this bloodline… a bloodline that sadly resembled nothing more than random bodies thrown together for a funeral. This story lacked emotional punch in a context audiences could connect to. Thumbs down!

Report Card

Character Development (F)

The question, really, is what character wasn’t underdeveloped?

Dialogue (D-)

Stage direction and scene summaries accounted for most of the dialogue.

Character backstory (C)

Backstory was strong but faded with the character’s inaction to evolve their stories.

Character Motivation (F)

Most character’s were passive, nonchalant or nonreactive about their troubles. 

What do you think of “This is Where I Leave You?” Did it hit your emotional chords?

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