Everybody likes the idea of a new beginning, but it’s they’re hard to manage when people won’t let things end. This month This Is Where I Leave You will wonder with audiences whether it’s really possible to make a clean start?
This is Where I Leave You is based on Jonathan Tropper’s best-selling novel that introduces a four Jewish children thrown back together by the death of their dad. The father of the Altmans made one death-bed request, that his four combative children would ‘sit shiva’ with each other – a Jewish tradition that involves spending seven days mourning together. His hope was that this forced family time would close the rifts that had opened between them. The results are laugh-out-loud funny and poignant at the same time.
Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) plays Judd, the son whose ideal marriage has just shattered on the revelation his wife’s been sleeping with his boss. Tina Fey (30 Rock) plays his sister Wendy, a ‘responsible mother’ who’s not above snide remarks and childish tussles at the funeral. Fuel for the fire are responsible older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who’s struggling to get his wife pregnant, and irresponsible little brother Phillip (Adam Driver) who’s too cool for his siblings. Presiding over their struggles is matriarch Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda) whose inappropriate comments, celebrity psychology and breast enhancements just turn up the heat. As the week passes their varied pasts get dragged out into the light, leaving little doubt why they’ve spent so long apart.
Taking refuge on the family roof, Judd asks Wendy, “Is it the whole world, or is it just this family?” But what also emerges is his very human desire to move on, from both his personal and paternal wreckage. So why can’t he manage it? “Starting over is complicated,” Wendy tells him, “…and you don’t do complicated Judd.” And therein lies the truth: we may want renewal but often it’s the very people we are that prevents us from achieving it.
When Tropper was working with the film’s screenwriters he provided them with a copy of his novel in which he’d highlighted all the key lines that should shape the Altmans. One of the quotes from his Jewish characters perfectly captures the problem with personal renewal:
“You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
Another Jew who brought the same problem to Jesus was the teacher Nicodemus. He didn’t misunderstand Jesus’ statement that salvation depended on people being ‘born again’; he just didn’t see how they could manage it. That’s why Jesus told him,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
Whatever human efforts we make will only ever have human results, and only last as long as flesh can manage. This Is Where I Leave You optimistically suggests leaving the past behind is our only option. But we know it only takes the right person – maybe a family member? – to push the button that brings the worst version of ourselves back into the room. The Spirit doesn’t eliminate the past, though. He redeems it. Through Jesus He takes away its sting, transforming our failings into things God has saved us from. In the end we don’t leave the past behind; He deals with it, and begins to remake us from the inside out.
Release Date: October 23