Based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel of the same name, this 2014 film is about a family of grown-up children returning home for their father’s funeral.
Director, Shawn Levy, is best known for Date Night, with Tina Fey, and the Night At The Museum films, with Ben Stiller. However viewers expecting a caper will find most of the high jinks take place within the sharply witty dialogue.
An impressive cast of some of the leading comedy actors of recent years also mislead expectations. Lovers of all things awkward, ironic, mumbled and unresolved might be disappointed to find that the overall feeling in this film is warm and even soothing. It’s as if the creators took a mix of modern and old fashioned characters and placed them in a reassuringly classic format.
Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda and Tina Fey lead an ensemble including Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Dax Shepard, Timothy Olyphant and Connie Britton. The characters are so well drawn that any one of them would be an interesting lead but the story focuses on Judd, played by Bateman.
On the Rotten Tomatoes podcast, Jonathan Tropper, who also wrote the screeplay, says that making his main character face a broken marriage and have to spend time with his family was not enough adversity and that’s why he made him sit shiva.
This is to say, the theme of this film is not grief but it is multitudes of loss. Each character is forced into a mid-life audit where they have to face some uncomfortable truths.
The decisions about what to mend, what to build upon and what to leave for something new and unknown, are more resonant with the years of rebuilding after a death but the filmmakers only have 99 minutes and they cover a lot of ground.
One of the best lines from the book, which unfortunately doesn’t make it into the film is “I’m too old to have this much nothing.” A similar sentiment that does make it into the film is when Judd says, “It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.”
The widow, played by Fonda, is initially seen as a cartoonish figure but is ultimately shown to be the wisest of the family and perhaps an exemplar for how the others should move forward.
It’s not a film that passes on any great lesson about life but it is one that entertainingly shows the feeling of having life take you to school when you really don’t want to go.
For a more light-hearted family comedy, with younger children, try We Bought A Zoo.
For darker humour, if you can handle it being set in a funeral home, there’s always the tv series, Six Feet Under. At this remove it looks like the goth sibling to Brothers and Sisters, which was a more mainstream drama but also good and both shows centre around families of grown-up children and their widowed mother adjusting to life after their dad has died.
First published in Issue 12 Widows and Widowers magazine