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.

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Ten Reasons I Enjoyed Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

1) Kiera Knightly played a modern-day person.

From playing Elizabeth Swan to Elizabeth Bennet, Kiera Knightly has played every period-piece role under the sun. Some, good; some, not so good. Finally, someone–specifically first-time director Lorene Scafaria–decided Knightly could take another stab at playing a character set in modern time (yes, I know Knightly’s had a few other roles in “current” time, such as Love Actually and that teen soccer movie). I was a big fan of Knightly being just another everyday person.

2) The soundtrack.

The soundtrack is quirky and fun, and has only one score song (which I still recommend buying!), and completely fitting for the film. It makes me wonder what would be playing on my iPod if it were the end of the world. The trailer song, “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, is worth the $1.29 on iTunes alone. Other favorites included “Stay With Me Baby” by The Walker Brothers, “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies, and my absolute favorite, “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

3) The use of vinyl records.

I appreciated the irony of using something considered age-old in a modern-day, end-of-the-world flick. Kiera Knightly’s character, Penny, plays this quirky girl who–of course–must love records. But the use of vinyl playing in the film, and the way the music filled the theater made me appreciate the beautiful sound that you can get only from listening to a record.

4) The non-fake-out ending.

Some people will feel the complete opposite I do about the ending; that’s perfectly fine. I fully appreciated the ending, [SPOILER] in that it was what the movie set out to be–the end of the world. If the end of the world were to hit in the way the movie presented, it would be very similar (in my mind) to dying. Instant. Sudden. Lights out. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World didn’t try to be some sci-fi, open-ended film, but be exactly what the title describes it as–seeking a friend for the end of the world.

5) The really funny dude who keeps popping up T. J. Miller.

T. J. Miller cracks me up. In SAFFTEOTW, he plays a hilarious waiter. Watch the trailer below to catch him in action (1:58). His voice is instantly recognizable, and from what I’ve seen him in, he’s on screen to fulfill one purpose: make people laugh. And this isn’t even his first end-of-the-world flick. He also played the “camera man” in Cloverfield, the first movie I remember him from. Miller has also played funny, minor roles in She’s Out of My League, and most recently, a hilarious scene in Rock of Ages.

6) Sorry, and what he represents.

In the last 3 weeks of its life (and the world’s life), a dog–who remains nameless to viewers–assumes the new name of “Sorry” when Dodge wakes up with the dog sitting nearby and a piece of paper taped to him with the one-word message of “sorry.” It’s a pity and a sad thing that someone would be heartless enough to leave a dog to fend for itself in the world’s remaining days, but Sorry added to the overall realness of the film. Accompanying Dodge and Penny on their journey, Sorry serves as a reminder that there are still helpless beings alive and in need of care, even in the world’s last days. And I suppose it is the selflessness of characters like Dodge who choose to care for the Sorrys left to themselves, even in the world’s last remaining weeks, that make us thankful for the Dodges in the real world.

7) Steve Carell tried to drink window cleaner.

Carell has mastered so many different levels of funny, from being Michael in The Office to his other hilarious roles in Date Night, AnchormanThe 40-Year-Old Virgin, and his voice work in Despicable Me. Carell also somehow manages to tug heartstrings in other movies like Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, his character doesn’t deal with the impending news of the end of the world at the beginning. While others are killing themselves or partying like crazy, he sits motionless and unresponsive. Finally, after a great deal of frustration builds up after having his wife run out on him, he resorts to return to the place where she left him–a park–and while clinging onto a new bottle of window cleaner he has just purchased for his housecleaner, decides to open the bottle and swig down a big gulp. Of all the ways to consider taking one’s life, I couldn’t help but find the humor in this action, even though the context was serious.

8) The odd pairing of Steve Carell and Kiera Knightly.

You would think that placing Carell and Knightly opposite one another would be a formula for disaster. In the strangest way possible, however, they really do work well for this movie. I tend to be attracted to a film that, while it follows a linear structure, somehow is able to turn a story on its head and be different without appearing as if it’s trying too hard. In my mind, SAFFTEOTW achieves just that, starting first with its two protagonists. The movie is whimsical and light while also balancing heavy and dark moments, and the odd mixture of Carell and Knightly fills out the film well with that combination of quirky oddness, reality, and endearment.

9) The questions the film provokes you to think after viewing.

I’ve hit on this point in the previous numbers, but I have to say, I really do enjoy a movie that demands some kind of thought after viewing it. Maybe not every end-of-the-world movie gets you thinking, but I think it’s safe to say that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World achieves the goal of making people ask themselves what they would do with their lives if they had only 3 weeks left to live (and consider those 3 weeks to not include flights to anywhere or cell phones to communicate). What would you do? Who would you spend your time with? It’s a striking thought when you consider that things like clothes and cars and all material things cease to matter in a world that doesn’t exist in three weeks, isn’t it?

10) It’s Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut.

Lorene Scafaria is one of those screenwriters who has worked and worked and worked and written and been turned down numerous times. I’m excited that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World finally got her a much-deserved break that has placed her name into the mainstream. Although she’s known more for the screenwriting bomb of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was her ninth screenplay and her first adaptation, I believe that a movie like SAFFTEOFW is an excellent directorial debut for Scafaria, and that it shows off her great potential for both writing and directing future films.

OK, has anyone else seen this movie yet? If so, what did you guys think of it? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Oh, and if you had only 3 weeks left to live, what would you do with the time?

Actors out of Their Elements

You know what I’m talking about right? The funny guy getting all dramatic, or the action dude trying to be funny. I remember watching an interview with Jason Segel where he recalled how difficult it was for comedians to get gigs that weren’t comedy. The crossover from one acting genre to another can sometimes be far apart, but that doesn’t mean that all actors are limited to one type of genre. Here are just a few examples of actors who have stepped out of their usual acting habitat and ventured into some ground considered new for their talents.

  • Ryan Reynolds in Buried

Reynolds has been primarily known for most of his career as a B-movie funny guy in young adult movies. And although he’s had a few gigs here and there that have only slightly pushed his envelope, I believe it was his performance in Buried that let the world know that he is far more capable actor than he previously led us all to believe. In the making of Buried, the movie took 17 days to shoot and during the filming, Reynolds developed a bald spot as well as dislocated his shoulder from having to lie in a coffin for over 2 weeks straight. In addition to his minor injuries, he was able to hold the screen on his own with only the support of voice actors talking to him through a cell phone. After this movie, he proved that he really does have dramatic chops beneath the 6-pack and dirty jokes and sarcastic humor.

  • Mark Wahlberg in The Other Guys and Date Night

Wahlberg has been the tough guy, eye candy, manly man for the majority of his career. It wasn’t until The Happening happened that he got slammed for playing a “wimp.” Then, he turns things around and plays a supporting and utterly hilarious role in Date Night alongside Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who very “graciously” played off his humor. And although The Other Guys could have been shortened by about 45 minutes, Wahlberg again was able to play straight (and occasionally funny) off one of the biggest comedians of our time, Will Ferrell.

  • Emma Stone in The Help

Although Stone is only 23 years old, the majority of her roles have been only supporting until Easy A. And even in that film, with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress under her belt, she really didn’t hit drama land until she nabbed the lead role in The Help. Stone’s already had another big year with The Help as well as Crazy, Stupid, Love and a cameo in Friends with Benefits. But the 1960s drama based off the best-selling novel film adaptation showed that Stone has a lot more to give to cinema than just some silly laughs or minor roles in rom coms. She’s clearly capable of being a leading lady in more than just another teen movie.

  • Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me

Perhaps I can’t use this example since I haven’t actually seen Reign Over Me. But from what I’ve read, Sandler is able to portray a heart-broken man dealing with the loss of his family from the 9/11 attacks. This movie is on my Need-To-See list. I’ve always enjoyed a little Adam Sandler humor (mainly his older movies–his newer ones have been crap!), but I’d love to see him entirely out of his element playing a dramatic role.

  • Jim Carrey in The Majestic and The Number 23

Jim Carrey is easily one of the funniest actors today. Between Dumb and Dumber and Liar Liar and Yes Man to name only a few, he has marked his place in funnymanland. But he also has several movies that show he is multi-talented. In The Number 23, Carrey plays a man who finds a book, reads it, and slowly realizes that he was the author. It’s a mind-numbing thriller that forces Carrey to be vulnerable, yet still on a mission. The Majestic holds the place for my favorite Jim Carrey performance yet. Set back in a time when the movies were an event to attend, war was raging on, and Carrey’s character hit his head and landed in a whole new place that took him in as a war hero they thought had died, Carrey brought in what I believe to be one of his best performances ever.

Do you like seeing actors in diverse roles? Who do you enjoy watching switch things up a bit?