Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 2014. 21 Laps Entertainment, Spring Creek Productions, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, based on his novel. Cinematography by Terry Stacey. Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by
Jason Bateman‘s life hits a slew of giant roadblocks in one day when he catches his wife in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard) and then gets a call from his sister (Tina Fey) that their father has died. When Bateman gets home for the funeral, he learns from his best-selling author mother (Jane Fonda) that his father’s request for the service was that she sit a full-week Shiva with her children (who also include Corey Stoll and Adam Driver), and given that all four offspring are at a point of crisis in their lives, the house is going to be a very loud mess for seven long days. Fey is a mother of two in a loveless marriage with a man who is never convincingly her husband (nor does she ever seem to be around her kids), Driver is perpetually bed-hopping and has come home with his gorgeous therapist (Connie Britton) as girlfriend, and Stoll’s marriage to Kathryn Hahn is being unraveled by their inability to conceive. Across the street is neighbor Debra Monk, whose son (Timothy Olyphant) lives with the after-effects of a brain injury that is also tied to a tragedy in their own family’s past. What can Bateman do about all this drama except find an old high school friend (Rose Byrne, horribly miscast as the legal version of Natalie Portman in Beautiful Girls) and start up an affair with her. The bombshell revelations arrive in just about every scene of this tireless melodrama whose incredible cast is awash in tangents that director Shawn Levy and screenwriter Jonathan Tropper, adapting his own novel without much awareness of filmic structure, simply cannot handle. It’s all middle ground, a series of high conflict moments that neither resolve themselves explicitly or implicitly until the next time there’s an embarrassing admission or a fight on the lawn. Bateman, deservedly the focus of the entire thing, navigates the ground between shticky comedy and emotional poignancy with great ease, even though Levy has absolutely no clue how to do it himself, while Fey is a disappointment, terrific timing in delivering dialogue but, in her darker moments, is reaching more for showy behaviour than anything profound or meaningful. Byrne, on the other hand, she of the porcelain skin and shrewd gaze, is a downright insult as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in her blue eyeshadow and bad perm representing (but not embodying) the tired trope of disappointed woman who was born to help a loveable, immature upper-middle-class white guy with too much time on his hands “figure it out”. Thank God for Jane Fonda, who takes all the plastic surgery jokes lobbed at her in just about every scene with the same easy calm that she uses to deliver sage advice and affection to her children; in a film where everyone is far too much up their own ass about their problems, neither willing to deal with them or enjoy ignoring them, it’s wonderful to see the woman acting like it only takes a little common sense to smack these kids into a sense of perspective. Her scenes are the best, though don’t be surprised if you find the whole thing a remarkably easy debacle to sit through: the pieces don’t fit together into a cohesive whole, but fans of the cast will have a good time watching them try.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2014