AEOS Review: This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

Hey guys! It’s been a very busy few days, so I am just now getting to posting. I got to see two movies over the past few days: The Maze Runner (2014) and This Is Where I Leave You (2014). I’ll be posting a From Page to Screen review on The Maze Runner soon, since my sister is co-authoring that post. But until then, here’s my review of This Is Where I Leave You.

I really wanted to like this movie. I purposefully went by myself to the theater to enjoy and soak in the humor and warmth I was expecting the film to emit. Unfortunately, those feelings were not what I experienced as I absorbed the material. There were bits of humor, and about two total times I actually laughed. There Is Where I Leave You is a movie that isn’t exactly sure what what tone it should take, and that’s what the viewers are left with: a confused movie.

Getting a confused audience was probably only partially purposeful when they adapted This Is Where I Leave You into a film, because after all, the story is about a messed up family trying to sort themselves out when the father passes away. It’s only natural to expect some chaos when you place complicated characters in one space. What I think director Shawn Levy failed to communicate to audiences was the actual direction and goal of the movie. What lesson can we take away from this movie? What character moved forward, changed, or accomplished a goal?

Shawn Levy actually has multiple directing credits, two of which probably most influenced him for This Is Where I Leave You: the remake Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Date Night (2010). Cheaper by the Dozen has one too many characters, and I think the same could be said for This Is Where I Leave You. Too often crowded movies lose their impact when there are too many characters to focus on. Date Night and This Is Where I Leave You both share Tina Fey, giving each film a similar humor every time the comedian opens her mouth in both films, even if she’s playing different parts.

Overall, This Is Where I Leave You is probably Levi’s most character-centric film. So of course, I expected the characters to progress, change, or at least do something. The movie has a large star-studded cast, its four protagonists playing the children of their just-widowed mother (Jane Fonda). The movie aims to focus on its lead character Judd (Jason Bateman), but it darts between him, his three siblings (played by Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll), his sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn), and a few other supporting cast that included Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, and Dax Shephard.

This Is Where I Leave You‘s plot isn’t original, as I felt like I saw bits of Elizabethtown (2005), Dan in Real Life (2007), and The Family Stone (2005) at different moments, just to name a few. The cast seemed mostly well chosen, although it seemed like Kathryn Hahn had little to do in her role. Jason Bateman played the same character he played in his Arrested Development (2003) run, being the middle sibling in a crazy family trying to make sense of everything. Dax Shephard seems to get himself typecast into douchebag/bastard roles that only further hinder him from getting offered other roles. Tina Fey’s character, Wendy, was the most believable for me, even when there wasn’t much she could do despite the script. Her chemistry with each of her brothers, especially Judd (Jason Bateman) seemed genuine, and they happened to look like they could be related, unlike Corey Stoll and Adam Driver. After What If (2014), This Is Where I Leave You is only the second movie I’ve seen Adam Driver in, and I think he’s absolutely hilarious. That being said, I wonder if he knows how to play any other character other than an immature man-child who has a few good jokes up his sleeve every now and then.

What I found most disappointing with This Is Where I Leave You is that the writing seemed to plummet, it’s lowest point when [SPOILER] Hilary Altman (Jane Fonda) starts kissing her neighbor in front of her children and half the neighborhood. It’s not so much that she’s kissing a woman as much as it’s at the mourning of her just-deceased husband that she chooses to announce she’s coming out, and that she’s been having a relationship with someone outside her marriage. It’s at this point in the movie everyone realizes why four adults have an impossible time sorting out their own relationships: not only did they lack a positive relationship model to look up to, but they’re also witnessing their only living parent promoting cheating near the deathbed of her spouse. I credit the writing behind the story if that was the goal of that scene, yet I feel like the screenwriters did the movie an injustice presenting this major turning point the way they did.

Speaking of the script, that’s what brings me back to the main problem of That’s Where I Leave You: the characters never make progress or learn. Phillip (Adam Driver) remains the hilarious, immature man-child; Paul (Corey Stoll) retains his boring persona as the mean older brother. Wendy (Tina Fey) plays the sister with all the good one-liners and advice to dole out, even though she’s incapable of taking any herself. Hillary (Jane Fonda) is the selfish mother who places her own sexual desires above her passed husband and living family. Judd (Jason Bateman) is the only character who experiences any possible change by actually dealing with his now complicated life instead of hiding under a blanket and pretending everything’s okay when it isn’t.

One of the pleasant unexpected surprises of the movie is how the soundtrack captured the essence of the movie. My favorite track, “On My Own” by Distant Cousins started when the credits rolled; however, there are multiple good songs off the record worth listening to.

While This Is Where I Leave You certainly disappointed, I give the movie props for a solid cast with good chemistry, somewhat realistic responses to a family death, and an appropriate soundtrack to match the film’s tone. I give This Is Where I Leave You 

Eye Art1Eye Art1  ON SCREEN.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of This Is Where I Leave You? If you haven’t seen it, do you plan on seeing it? Please join the discussion below, because as always, I would love to know your thoughts.

Advertisements

AEOS Review: What If (2014)

If there were a way to explain how What If didn’t, and yet did, follow the same formula many romantic comedies have, I would. But what I can tell you is that screenwriter Elan Mastai knew what he was doing when he adapted T.J. Dawe’s and Michael Rinaldi’s play Toothpaste and Cigars into a movie.

The characters Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) officialize their friendship with a handshake, to the glee of Chantry and dismay of Wallace, although the latter rather be put in the friend zone than entirely forgotten by Chantry. It is Chantry who first offers her hand, perhaps trying to prevent a deeper relationship with a guy she finds herself attracted to, in her mind threatening her current relationship.

They’re experimenting with the Harry and Sally conundrum: can a man and woman be just friends? Chantry is more interested in gaining a friend than playing the game, and Wallace doesn’t want to play the game, but he can’t let go of the prospect of being part of Chantry’s life in some form, even if it isn’t what he’d hope for.

Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe in What If. Image via Google Images.

Both lead actors overcome obstacles in playing the roles What If set out for them. Daniel Radcliffe is stripping his Harry Potter persona, and he deftly handled and proved he has more characters to play than the most famous wizard when he signed on to play the sweet and subtle Wallace. Zoe Kazan’s character can be frustrating, yet there are moments when you care despite her shortcomings, made up mostly of leading Wallace on while maintaining her relationship with her long-time boyfriend (Rafe Spall).

Since What If has been out for several weeks now, I’m not going to break down the movie plot point by plot point. But I did make some observations about a film that I would recommend to friends who enjoy a unique comedy that strays from typical rom-com land.

First, why is the movie called What If? I thought about a few what ifs, but the film’s website included these questions:

What if you never told her how you felt? 

What if I’m still in love with my ex?

What if he thinks it’s more than what it is?

What if you could fall in love over and over again?

I don’t think What If answers all of those questions, but the actors play their roles well enough that you don’t have to ask all of those questions. The chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan is bubbling over in many scenes. But the sense you get is that there’s this friendship between the two that has you rooting for them because they make great friends. The added physical attraction is just a bonus.

Image via Google Images.

One of the most interesting scenes involves Wallace’s friends, Allan (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) stealing Wallace’s and Chantry’s clothes while the two swim in the ocean. The typical rom com’s screenplay would welcome the opportunity for a convenient hook-up between the two characters everyone’s been waiting to get together. Instead, Chantry and Wallace are faced with a decision, surprisingly taking the morally high ground, which was considerably the harder choice of the two.

There were moments I felt like What If was lightly inspired by (500) Days of Summer (2009), although I wouldn’t consider it quite the success the latter proved to be. There is a lot of text scrawl and animated hand-drawn pictures in the film, and somehow they’re related to Chantry’s job. Perhaps the goal was to connect her job to the overall theme of the film, but the delivery failed to communicate that idea, making the artistry seem odd and out of place. In spite of that, What If‘s screenplay rarely falters, and there are both sweet and funny moments, many of which deliver.

Most of the humor of this movie comes from the Allan character, which Adam Driver so helplessly plays. For some reason, Wallace regularly seeks advice from Allan throughout the movie, and some funny dialogue plays out, adding to the charm and unique tone What If gives off.

Image via Google Images.

The ending of What If is not worth giving away to those who have yet to see the movie, but in the end, I like how the writers chose to end it.

I give What If . . .

Eye Art1Eye Art1Eye Art1Eye Art2

It’s your turn now. If you saw What If, what did you think of it? If you didn’t, are you planning to see What If? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.