It took me until a college intro-level theater class to realize it, but the term melodrama actually means “music drama.” In Shawn Levy’s adaptation of the novel “This Is Where I Leave You,” he really deploys that definitional dimension to convey all the film’s emotion.
As if we couldn’t already tell that two family members alone together was going to result in clichéd conversation, Levy cues each scene up with Michael Giacchino’s gentle piano score to softly amplify the forced profundity. Or maybe if we’re lucky, Levy will treat us to a mellow Alexei Murdoch ditty. (The singer is employed far less effectively than he was by Sam Mendes in “Away We Go,” for the few out there who care.)
The film seems to move forward solely on the logic that everyone needs to almost cry alone with each other. It doesn’t matter to what extent the actors can manage authenticity – usually they don’t manage at all – because it’s impossible to escape the hoary hokeyness of the directorial heavy-handedness.
“This Is Where I Leave You,” which follows a family of four estranged siblings coming back to sit shiva for their deceased father, brings a lot more under its roof than it can handle. Levy recruited a heck of a cast but seems unsure of how to deploy them in roles that require more than easy comedy. The film’s dialogue makes more than a few attempts at humor, yet its talented players seem to timid to explore that element.
The reserve of the cast only serves to exacerbate the awkward blending of three distinct comic stylings: the reactionary stoicism of Jason Bateman, the strung-out loquaciousness of Tina Fey, and the live wire erraticism of Adam Driver. (As for Corey Stoll, their eldest sibling … well, every family needs one serious member). They don’t feel like family members so much as they come across as uncommonly adept scene partners who can feign a passable relationship until someone yells cut.