Very rarely does a book-to-movie interpretation come along where the movie version is as good as the book. Even rarer is the moment when the movie is better. Well, I won’t say that This Is Where I Leave You surpassed its novel predecessor, however, it did nearly match it. I read the book by Jonathan Tropper last fall when I heard that Jason Bateman was going to be the lead character and love love LOVED it. So much so that the day that I finished the book (incidentally, the same day I purchased it), I went out and bought two of the other Tropper books my local Chapters carried and then proceeded to rush order the final three.
The flick follows the somewhat-estranged Altman family as they sit shiva after the patriarch of the family passes away and reacquaint themselves with what it means to be a family. Judd (played by Bateman) also found out in a rather merciless way that his wife was sleeping with his boss, his sister, Wendy (played by the formidable Tina Fey), is stuck being married to a total asshole with two kids on her hip, his older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is caught in a tense infertility situation with his wife and their youngest brother, Philip (Adam Driver), breezes in with his characteristic carelessness. The four prodigal children see their busty mother again (played by Jane Fonda who can really do no wrong) and reopen old wounds while working to close others and try to figure out how they all got so lost. And what brings people together better than a funeral?
Never have I seen a movie that has been so perfectly cast from its literary counterpart. I can’t even explain how perfect (PERFECT) these actors are for the roles they played. Apart from the fact that the storyline is so simple, yet so brilliant (I’m truly a sucker for dramedies about dysfunctional family dynamics), these actors transformed their characters from page to screen so effortlessly you’re even willing to overlook the small plot changes and omissions.
Quite like the book version, this movie has the ability to have you laughing hysterically one minute and wiping away tears the next (this will really make you feel ALL THE FEELS) and Tropper’s mastery at making the audience so involved in the Altman family’s trials is pure genius. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, but that’s precisely the point–if you’ve ever had a death in the family, you entirely understand what it means and can relate completely. Tropper’s ability to take ordinary, everyday situations and make them hilarious and devastating (life, right?) is a recurring theme throughout all of his books, and as much as I recommend seeing this movie (and then also buying it when it comes out on DVD because this is a serious keeper), you should absolutely give the books a shot too (start with This Is Where I Leave You and then move onto One Last Thing Before I Go).
Tropper deals a lot with regret and missed opportunities and gives his sometimes unlikeable characters a chance to–dare I say it–learn from their mistakes, whatever they may be. What this movie accomplishes is showing us that even when it is actually too late to repair one relationship or say that thing you always meant to say to that person, it’s not always too late to tell someone else the same thing–and not to get all sappy and weird and shit, but it’s something I’m sure everyone could take a lesson in.