The premise of “This is Where I Leave You” is that four diverse siblings and their sexually adventurous mother must sit shiva for a full seven days, sitting on low chairs, and dealing with each other and their problems. While I recommend the film in order to support a flick that portrays a neurotic Jewish family, the film is as entertaining as sitting shiva for a week for one’s parent. There are moments of laughter, but overall, their is quiet stress.

I swear I saw this same film at an Israel Film Festival in 2009, in which a family of 8 or more kids must sit shiva in Israel and work out their dysfunctional issues while imprisoned in the house for a week. It was by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz and it was called “Shiva” and starred Moshe Ivgy.

Nevertheless, this story is based on Jonathan Tropper‘s best selling 2009 novel, and I guess is part of the genre of shiva-focused films.

Opens in North America on Friday, September 19, 2014
Directed by Shawn Levy
Based on the novel This is Where I leave You by Jonathan Tropper.
Screenplay by Jonathan Tropper.
Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures (1 hour and 43 minutes)

Director Shawn Levy plays it cool. You know this Montreal-born, Jewish director from his Night at The Museum films. He knows how to work with celebrity actors and in this case, he tones down their performances and turns them into an ensemble. In the novel, the family was named “Foxman;” in the film, the family is named “Altman.” Which I suppose is why the pace of the film feels like a Robert Altman production.

The cast includes Jane Fonda as Hilary Altman, the widow of the deceased and mother of the four siblings; Jason Bateman as Judd Altman; Tina Fey as Wendy Altman; ubiquitous Adam Driver as Phillip Altman; Kathryn Hahn as Annie Altman; Corey Stoll as Paul Altman; Rose Byrne as Penny Moore, Connie Britton as Tracy Sullivan (Phillip’s therapist and love interest); Dax Shepard as the adulterous Wade Beaufort; Debra Monk as Linda Callen; Abigail Spencer as Quinn Altman; and actor Ben Schwartz as their adolescent idiotic Rabbi Charles Grodner, who was known as Boner as a kid. (you may known him as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein in Parks and Recreation)

The film opens with the death of the family patriarch. Hilary Altman (Jane Fonda), his newly minted widow, pulls out one of his hospital tubes to the horror of her daughter, Wendy (Tina Fey). To which Hilary says to Wendy, “What am I gonna do, kill him?” Hilary is impatient. Wendy calls her siblings for the funeral. Judd learns of the death and funeral just minutes after surprising his wife in an extra-marital affair. During the shiva, we learn that the love of Wendy’s life still lives next door; Annie needs to get pregnant badly; and Phillip is dating his therapist.

I heard that critic Rex Reed said this film is vulgar, inept and gruesomely contrived. That is harsh. Like sitting shiva, there is dullness – awkward silence – while watching the film , with brief moments of levity, or a moment or two when you learn a tidbit about the deceased. The plot lines and characters will work well on a DVD for a rainy afternoon, but overall, it left me wondering what dish to send Warner Brothers for their shiva for this film.

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