December 18, 2014
The Altmans reunite when their father Mort dies. Their mother Hilary reveals that his dying wish was for the members of his family to sit Shiva, a Jewish funeral custom during which family members gather in their home and receive visitors for seven days. Forced to stay together, the four Altman siblings have to address their current personal problems in full view of each other. Many times, their dirty laundry would even washed in front of their neighbors.
Eldest brother Paul is unsuccessful with trying to have kids with his wife Annie. Judd is still reeling from his wife Quinn's infidelity, as he reconnects with Penny, the girl who once had a crush on him. Wendy is drifting away from her constantly busy husband Barry, as she was haunted by her decision to leave her first love Horry, who had a brain injury. Youngest brother Phillip is still immature and direction-less in his life, even as brings along his rich and much-older fiancee Tracy.
There have been other films about dysfunctional families reuniting because of a death in the family. The one that immediately comes to mind is "August: Osage County". In that one, the Weston sisters all had bones to pick with their ill-tempered, drunk and domineering mother played by Meryl Streep. In this one, the Altman siblings all never forgave their mother for writing about their private childhood misadventures in her best-selling book. In contrast with Streep, Jane Fonda played sexually-frank matriarch Hilary with class and genuine affection for her kids and her artificially-enhanced breasts.
The two actors playing the two central characters are more known for their wild funny comedies, Jason Bateman (as Judd) and Tina Fey (as Wendy). Here, while they still had witty exchanges of words, we get to see more of their serious sides. There are really no laugh-out-loud moments in this film, as some audiences may be expecting given their reputation for slapstick.
The other members of the cast also do very well. Corey Stoll and Adam Driver play the other two brothers steady Paul and screwball Phillip, respectively. I liked Rose Byrne's portrayal of the sweet Penny. Those scenes of hers in the ice skating rink were very nice indeed. Timothy Olyphant had some affecting scenes as the mentally-impaired Horry, a character which could have been better explored.
I personally liked this film because of its smart and thought-provoking script as written by Jonathan Tropper from his own novel. While there may be some missteps which may offend others, generally the script had some pretty sharp psychology about sibling relationships within its darkly humorous lines. I liked that all the characters got to explore their issues with each other with some sort of closure. Whatever limitations the script had, the talented ensemble cast saved. Director Shawn Levy brings into this project the same sensitive understanding of about families he showed in his previous films "Date Night" and "Real Steel". 6/10.