Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), the main character in Shawn Levy's This Is Where I Leave You, is already having a miserable year when he gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) that their father has died. This blow comes not long after he discovers his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) sleeping with his boss (Dax Shepard), which leads to the end of both his marriage and his career. Judd's father requested that the whole family sit shiva after his passing, so he travels back to his childhood home; there, he learns that he's far from the only Altman with problems.
Wendy is a mother of two whose marriage to a corporate shark is on the rocks -- she still pines for Horry (Timothy Olyphant), her teenage love, who now has mental issues stemming from a severe brain injury. Type-A older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) has been trying for years to have a baby with his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn), who dated Judd before she married Paul. Youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver), a raving narcissist, is the black sheep of the family, and he's currently dating Tracy (Connie Britton), his former therapist. Meanwhile, mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) takes every opportunity to air her family's dirty laundry in public, something she's been doing ever since she published a very successful book about how she raised the Altman clan.
All together under one roof for seven days of bickering and mourning, the family members deal with one another and their own problems to the best of their ability. In Judd's case, that means striking up a relationship with Penny (Rose Byrne), who had a crush on him back in high school.
Adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his own novel, This Is Where I Leave You might technically be a comedy, but it aims for sadness as often as it does laughs. Bateman plays Judd with a defeated air; his put-downs here don't have the hard-hitting zing we typically expect from the actor. He's very good in the movie, but those expecting him to hit the sarcastic heights of Horrible Bosses or Arrested Development will likely be thrown by his restraint. Elsewhere, Fey reliably gets laughs, as does Adam Driver, who enlivens every one of his scenes with his off-kilter line readings and unforced charisma.
The cast are appealing enough that you don't mind spending time with the characters, but unfortunately, the entire story feels far too neat and tidy for the amount of pathos Levy wants to explore. At one point, Wendy tells Judd that his life is getting complicated and he doesn't do complicated, and while that's a good line, it doesn't ring true because all of his problems resolve themselves very easily. The movie wants to be about real life, but it never feels like it.
There's always pleasure to be had in watching good actors bounce off of each other, and in that regard the film is certainly watchable. Fonda and Bateman share the most genuine and touching scene of the movie when Judd is forced to wear one of his father's sports coats; Fey and Olyphant have a tender moment together in which they discuss their past; and Ben Schwartz is very funny as the family's rabbi, who has never outlived his embarrassing childhood nickname. The individual scenes play smoothly and go down easy, but the movie as a whole never feels like anything is at stake. It's a too pleasant film about a man and a family going through a decidedly unpleasant patch.