THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
About The Production
"Your father had one dying wish and we're
going to honor it. It's going to be hard. We're
going to get on each other's nerves. But for the
next seven days you are all my children again.
And you are all grounded."
Filmmaker Shawn Levy's response to This is Where I Leave You was heartfelt
immediate. "I loved it," Levy recalls of his first time reading Jonathan
entertaining, best-selling novel about love, loss, family, growing up, and
getting on with the
business of life. "It resonated for me in ways that were both comedic and deeply
was something in its blend of humanity, warmth and humor that rang true, and I
knew it was a
movie I wanted to make, a story I wanted to share."
It may seem like something of a departure for Levy, best known by moviegoers
the world for the blockbuster "Night at the Museum" films. "At the time, I was
broader comedy, whereas this is more character-based and nuanced in its detail,
so it had to be
drawn with a finer brush," he says.
"This is Where I Leave You" finds Levy still very much in the business of
laugh, but this time those laughs spring from a more intimate place, as the film
holds up a mirror
to the kinds of emotional entanglements, conflicts and secrets, pitfalls,
pratfalls and second
chances in life that we can all relate to, as the ties that bind often tie us up
in knots. "It's a
grounded, honest story about human behavior and connections that I think is as
being funny as it is being poignant," he adds.
It was these elements that originally attracted producers Paula Weinstein and
Levine to the project. Weinstein, long a fan of Tropper's work, recounts how
they learned of the
story while it was still in process. "Jonathan came into the office and told us
about this new
novel he was in the middle of, and I thought, 'Oh, do I love this idea,'" she
says. "It sounded like
a fun, funny, empathetic and irreverent story about family and divorce and
betrayal and love that
brings out the best and the worst in everyone, with a real take-no-prisoners
kind of family.
There's no getting away with not telling the truth. I've always appreciated
Jonathan's mix of
humor and pathos. He does it brilliantly."
Weinstein and Levine hired Tropper to write the screenplay for "This is Where
You," marking the first time the author has adapted his own work for the screen.
He became an
integral part of the filmmaking team-also serving, with Mary McLaglen, as an
In its opening beats, "This is Where I Leave You" deals its hero a series of
in rapid succession. Judd Altman, a presumably happily married and successfully
radio producer with a comfortable and tastefully furnished New York City
home one day to find his perfect wife in bed with his perfectly loathsome boss,
and is rendered
loveless, jobless and homeless in one lightning bolt of misery. His resulting
downward spiral is
only interrupted, days later, by the news that his father has passed away. Still
Judd is summoned back to his childhood home to reconnect with his three
siblings and their unapologetically outspoken mother, who insists they all spend
the next seven
days together-and won't take no for an answer. On its surface, perhaps, not the
scenario for a laugh-out-loud experience and yet, wherever there are momentous,
events, there is family. And where there is family, well...
"It's a breeding ground for dysfunction," offers Jason Bateman, who stars as
stressed-out Judd. "You have people who are very passionate about their
positions, be they
practical or emotional or ethical, and there's all that shared history with its
unresolved issues. So it's not difficult to find these characters in a situation
where their dignity
starts to unravel and their vulnerability is at such a place where they do and
say things that are
heartwarmingly hilarious to witness."
Considering all that Judd has already endured, this sounds like the last
thing in the world
he needs but, in fact, may be exactly what he needs most. Because sometimes you
have to go
home to find out where you got lost.
"Shawn did a great job of balancing the tone so you get something real and
sophisticated without being precious, and emotional without being sappy," says
its core, it's about people trying to deal with one another and be honest about
what they're going
Tina Fey, who stars as Judd's fiercely supportive but undeniably bossy big
Wendy, concurs. "Death, the implosion of a marriage, people cheating on each
other, all those
dire situations that put people under pressure can inspire some weird behavior.
The thing about
families is that you're at your most comfortable with them in some ways, but
they also have the
most damaging goods on you. When they're stuck together with no escape, it all
Still, notes Levy, "For all their snark and wit, they're also deeply loyal to
one another, and
when the chips are down they will stand by each other and hold each other up.
These are, after
all, the people who knew you before life had its way with you, back when you
were nothing but
potential. They are arguably the ones who know and love you best, so there's
reconnecting with them, however awkward or uncomfortable, that's renewing and
"With so much focus on the dynamics and the relationships, the cast was
emphasizes. Levy assembled a true-and truly stellar-ensemble for "This is Where
You." In addition to Bateman and Fey, Corey Stoll stars as stolid big-brother
Paul Altman, and
Adam Driver as the perpetual baby of the family, Phillip. They are presided over
devoted but proudly unconventional mother, Hilary, a celebrated child
psychologist and author,
played by Jane Fonda.
Representing the Altmans' romantic entanglements-past, present and
Rose Byrne as Penny, a hometown girl who's carried a torch for Judd since high
Kathryn Hahn as Paul's wife, Annie, whose dating history with Judd remains a
contention between the brothers; Connie Britton as Phillip's unexpected and
accomplished fiancee, Tracy; Timothy Olyphant as Wendy's sweet lost love, Horry;
Spencer as Judd's estranged wife, Quinn. Also on board are Dax Shepard as Judd's
shameless boss, talk show star and frat-boy icon Wade Beaufort; Debra Monk as
longtime neighborhood friend; and Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Grodner-aka Boner, a
been trying to shake for years.
Audiences may see a bit of themselves or their loved ones in some of these
"The ecology of any family is complex, and who's to say what normal is?" says
"Everyone has their own issues and there are all kinds of tensions, rivalries,
misunderstandings, which is just the nature of families. It's easy to identify
with, and great
material for storytelling."
Says Tropper, "Working with Shawn and the producers, seeing other people get
invested in these characters in a different way, and then seeing the actors make
them their own;
it's been an exciting process."
For those who loved the story and will be rediscovering it on the big screen,
"I've always been a big movie fan and I look at movies as a very different
animal, so it wasn't
really hard to take apart the book and find the movie inside of it. It's the
same message and the
same story. The hardest part was finding the balance between what people would
find fun and
entertaining and, at the same time, wanting them to be touched by its underlying
Throughout, Tropper worked closely with Levy, who felt, "It was my job to
novel. Much of my process was reminding Jonathan of the beauty of his prose and
ideas, or lines, or whole scenes from the novel.
"I don't know that I've ever followed my gut as faithfully as I did in the
pursuit of this
book, and this story, and really in every decision I made during the making of
this movie," the
director continues. "The reason I wanted to make it was because it's so
inspirational and warmhearted
and redeeming in ways that I like movies to be."
Three months ago I had a great
job and a nice apartment and I
was in love with my wife.
There's a lot going on in "This is Where I Leave You," but the narrative
and ends with Judd. "He's a fairly happy guy," Jason Bateman says of his
character just before
the bottom drops out of everything. "He produces a popular radio show, and even
really rather be doing something else, he puts up with it because it allows him
this perfect life
he'd mapped out for himself. Judd doesn't have a huge tolerance for
spontaneity. And then things start to go sideways-his marriage falls apart,
there's a death in
the family-and it knocks him off balance."
Tropper conceived of Judd as a man always on the straight and narrow. "He
safe so everything will work out the way he's planned. But when he's plunged
into a state of
crisis, Judd starts to feel that all the assumptions he had growing up, and on
which he based his
entire life, may have been faulty, and maybe he should have been less determined
the outcome and more invested in discovering his true self."
Citing the "self-deprecating self-awareness, wit and wisdom that Bateman
brings to the
role," Tropper sees Judd's reaction to his wife's infidelity as "a great slow
burn, which you see
him quietly processing for days until it finally explodes."
"Jason's performance is a microcosm of the film's tone as he pivots in the
from funny to touching," adds Levy.
Says Bateman, "Judd's journey is to figure out if he's pointed in the right
try to get a clue, or two or three, which he receives through some of the
circumstances he goes
through and some of the people he interacts with in the film-most of whom are
much the same exercise."
Among these is the effervescent, independent Penny, a character Bateman
with appropriate ambiguity as "an old girlfriend of Judd's... well, not really a
was an attraction there for a minute, but it was sort of a childhood thing."
Rose Byrne, who stars as Penny, says, "Penny is Judd's past flame from high
Now, through circumstances of her own, she's also back in the old neighborhood
and she's a
skating coach at the local rink. She's in a little bit of a time warp when he
runs into her, and
they reconnect in an unexpected way."
Whether or not Penny represents Judd's future, she certainly represents
spent his entire life avoiding: complication. Possibly the right girl at the
wrong time? A not-so-subtle
reminder of the road not taken? But, notes Weinstein, that's entirely the point.
part of Judd's coming to the realization that life will hand you surprises,
regardless, so you may
as well take some risks and feel the exhilaration that comes from jumping off
and not knowing
where you're going to land."
You guys are idiots.
But you're my idiots.
"As the only girl in the family, Wendy has attempted to mother her two
but she's especially close to Judd," says Tina Fey. "At first, she's the only
one who knows how
Judd is living and that he's left his wife and his job, and she's a confidant to
him even when he
doesn't want her as a confidant. She pulls the truth out of him like only an
older sister can do,
and they annoy each other in the way that only brothers and sisters can."
Levy drew upon his relationship with his own sister in helping to develop the
between the two leads, saying, "I knew that the Wendy-and-Judd scenes would be
the heart of
the movie so we bolstered them and spent a lot of time focused on them in the
writing and the
performances. Tina and Jason, who didn't know each other prior to production,
wonderfully intimate bond that is so authentic on screen.
"Tina brings all her sharpness and biting wit into play, but where Wendy's
story is also
touched with pain she had to convey that sadness and vulnerability too," Levy
took that leap and she absolutely soars."
Tough as nails when she has to be-don't cross her or anyone she loves-Wendy
the wise, warm, big sister with the awesome left hook. "She's married to a
Fey. "On paper, he's everything she would be into: smart, successful,
handsome...but he's also
a bit of a tool, like rolling calls at her father's funeral. They have two young
children so they're
also dealing with the stress and strain of that, but you get the feeling that
maybe they weren't
the greatest couple even before that."
All of this is thrown into perspective when Wendy comes home and catches
Horry Callen, the boy she left behind.
Timothy Olyphant stars as the strong yet touchingly fragile Horry, whose
not dampened his sense of humor so much as lent it a certain philosophic edge.
Wendy were in love," Olyphant explains. "They were high school sweethearts and
it was a
lovely thing, but then a tragic accident happened and Horry became incapable of
kind of life and relationship Wendy would have wanted-and that he wanted for
her. So she got
on with life and married someone else. But when she comes home and sees him,
opportunity for a time out. It's as if that relationship and that love still
exists for both of them in
some kind of timeless bubble."
Likening it in some ways to the connection that sparks between Judd and
Tropper observes, "You can't always choose where love finds you, or whether it
will be the kind
of love that takes you to happily-ever-after. Maybe you take it whenever it
comes and in
whatever form, rather than trying to bend it to your schedule or rules or
I used to be fun...right?
"Paul, the eldest, is the responsible brother who stayed behind to run his
He's like a hundred guys we all know who are performing the thankless task of
being the good
son while their siblings go off to follow their own dreams," Levy acknowledges.
"It's a noble path
and I chose Corey Stoll because of the way he projects that good, solid,
Beneath all that nobility, though, runs a wicked current of resentment that
underestimate at their own risk. Stoll suggests, "Paul likes to see himself as
the one who's
holding the family together, but I think it suddenly sort of smacks him in the
face that maybe he's
just been playing that role to get some kind of credit, and, now that his
father's gone, his
motives may not have been as altruistic as he thought."
Adding to this stress is his wife's incessant drumbeat about getting
pregnant, a project
which so far has proven unsuccessful, despite a punishing schedule of ovulation
"She wants a family of her own with Paul," says Kathryn Hahn, who portrays
Altman. "And you know how it is whenever there's any kind of family
ask, 'When are you having kids?,' 'Why don't you have any children yet?' So
that's very much
on her mind. Plus, there are suddenly Wendy's beautiful kids underfoot and
looks there's family, and it takes her to some pretty desperate places."
If all this kindling seems primed for a match, that match is struck the
imagines that his wife and his brother, Judd, whom she briefly dated before him,
are getting a
little too cozy-even though their brief affair is ancient history and the
relationship between Judd
and Annie has long ago eased into a sweet, familial bond. Stoll says, "Suddenly
open and Paul's jealousy is unleashed. And it's only a matter of time before
that jealousy spills
over into physical confrontation. Does it reach that point? Of course.
"Families are people you otherwise might not have anything to do with if you
biologically and legally connected," he adds. "And you're connected for life.
You can be a
thousand miles away and you can't escape them. The lengths that some people go
to get away
from their inheritance, in terms of nature and nurture, can be pretty hilarious.
And I love the way
adult children regress when they come back home. It's certainly true for me and
We immediately lose 20 years and 50 IQ points."
Look, you're on one end and I'm on
the other, and somewhere between
us is the guy who gets it right.
Long on looks, wit, charm, and natural smarts, the youngest Altman brother
been a little short on maturity, sliding in and out of trouble so rapidly that
his siblings have given
up keeping track of him. It's anyone's guess as to how he makes a living or even
where he is
on any given day.
He also has a remarkable talent for pushing everyone's buttons.
Intentionally. He just
enjoys the fireworks.
"Phillip is the hot mess of the family," says Levy.
"He's the kid everyone indulged," notes Adam Driver, who stars as Phillip.
raised around a lot of adult conversations and he missed out on playmates his
own age, so he
grew up fast in some ways, but it taught him how to grab people's attention."
It also taught Phillip about people's behavior and motives, which makes for
insights he casually rolls out through the course of the story. Ironically,
though, that doesn't
necessarily help him suss out his own motives. Case in point: his girlfriend,
accomplished, sophisticated, straightforward woman considerably older than
some rather unsettling similarities to his mother.
Conversely, "Tracy's a seemingly a very put-together woman in a relationship
probably not the best thing for her," says Connie Britton, who stars as the
person Phillip proudly
introduces as his former therapist and current fiancee. "Apart from the age
the fact that she's a psychologist, just like Phillip's mother, and actually
idolizes her, and it all
starts to feel a bit incestuous."
Says Driver, "Phillip is trying to identify himself in a new way and wants
his siblings to
see him as older, changed, more mature, but that's hard when people are used to
how to blow your nose. And Tracy may be a part of that. Maybe on some level he
by being involved with her, by association, people will see him differently."
As effectively as Driver captures the character, he nearly didn't get the
chance, due to
his shooting schedule on "Girls," Levy recalls. "He loved the role and I loved
him and we all
wanted him to do the movie. We worked it out and it was absolutely worth it. As
is all instinct and charisma, and never a dishonest note, which is exactly what
We made love on our first date. I don't
mind telling you, the man was hung.
As complex and combustible as the kids' bonds are with each other, they pale
comparison to their relationship with their mother, the simultaneously regal and
portrayed by the legendary Jane Fonda.
Says Levy, "Hilary loves her kids fiercely and she's bigger than life. I
who was not only a great actress but could project a certain grandness as the
matriarch of this
family. Needless to say, Jane blew us all away."
"I've done many comedies in my career but the style was different," says
in the good old days we didn't do much exploring alternative ways to say
something; we stuck to
the script. So it was a learning experience for me, and something that interests
me very much,
this kind of comedy, as well as working with all these fabulously talented
performers that Shawn
"I really love this character," she continues. "Hilary's a woman with a touch
narcissism, who loves her children very much but is not much aware of
boundaries. For the
book she wrote on child-rearing 25 years ago, she used her own children as
examples. It got
pretty personal, and they still resent it."
A best-selling author, herself, Fonda jokes, "I've written my own books and
cringe, too, so I understand it well."
Whether in print or conversation, nothing is off-limits for Hilary, from her
training to their adolescent awakenings, to her own sexual history with their
father, which makes
for some exceedingly awkward moments at the reunion-especially when company is
And now that she's preparing for the 25th anniversary edition of her book with a
they can look forward not only to the humiliation of her sharing their secrets
anew, but of her
doing it while showcasing a set of what Judd can only call "bionic breasts."
Says Weinstein, "She's as inappropriate as a mother can be. Whatever is in
comes out of her mouth. She feels that life is full of passion and drama and
everything, and you
must engage and embrace it. Consequently, Hilary has been an embarrassment to
their entire lives. But, to her, there is no cause for embarrassment: people are
just who they
Among those rounding out the main cast in key supporting roles, Dax Shepard
loose as Judd's boss, reigning shock-talk radio host Wade Beaufort, whose
have earned him a ton of money and a fleet of fast cars, as well as a
get-out-of-jail-free card for
incredibly obnoxious behavior. As the longtime producer of his show, Judd may
not exactly get
Wade's appeal, but knows it's good for business.
It was apparently also good for Judd's likely-to-be ex-wife, Quinn, played by
Spencer, who has succumbed to Wade's inexplicable charm to the tune of a
year-long affair the
two have been carrying on under Judd's nose. It's Judd's discovery of this
betrayal that sets the
story in motion but it doesn't end there, as he, Wade and the conflicted Quinn
business yet to hash out.
Back on the home front, Debra Monk plays close family friend Linda Callen,
mom, who has lived across the street from the Altmans for decades and has become
member of the family than any of the returning siblings realize.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Charles Grodner, played by Ben Schwartz, attempts to
proceedings and offer counsel. The problem is, no mere rabbinic ordination can
Altman's memories of him as the pot-smoking dweeb they knew as Boner. Tropper
thought it would be cool for him to be a guy they grew up with, who they
couldn't possibly view
as a spiritual leader because they knew what a jerk he'd been as a kid. No
matter how much he
wants them to stop calling him that, his childhood nickname has stuck, and it's
very difficult to
preside over a congregation when people are calling you Boner."
Have you had your man parts checked, because you may
have emptied them over the years. My room was next
to yours... My room was next to yours.
"This is Where I Leave You" was filmed largely on location in and around Long
New York. Its main set piece, the suburban two-storey Altman home, was an
existing house on
a spacious tree-lined street in Great Neck, where cast and crew made camp for
approximately month-long shoot and became a part of the neighborhood: chatting,
photos, and sometimes sharing a bite from the catering truck with the locals.
"I wanted it to feel authentic and not palatial or magnificently done, so it
wasn't big," Levy
states. "It was a medium-sized house, and we were on top of each other working
Scenes between Judd and Penny at the ice rink where Penny works were captured at
rink in Bellmore, Long Island, which the production rented. To confidently play
the part of a
professional skating instructor, Byrne was coached by local skater Jessica Renee
also doubled for the actress in some of the more challenging executions.
"The tough part is acting on ice, which is cold and hard," Bateman says about
scenes, in which he did more falling and lying down than actual skating. "You
don't even want to
be standing on it for long because your toes get cold and I like to be warm. So,
no, I don't
believe I'll be doing a hockey movie anytime soon."
Other practical locations included New York City's famed 2 Pennsylvania
offices and studio space housing radio stations WABC, WNSH and WPLJ accommodated
fictional ratings juggernaut "The Man Up Show, with Wade Beaufort."
Three sets were constructed on sound stages: Judd's apartment, which his
to as "perfect," with its clean lines, tasteful art and generous windows; the
classroom where Judd, Paul and Phillip unexpectedly convene for a cleansing-if
blasphemous-blast from the past; and the cluttered Altman basement, where poor
forced to bunk on a sofa-bed that only folds out three-quarters of the way,
because all the
rooms upstairs are spoken for.
It proved important for Levy to shoot not only the exterior but the interior
the literal four walls of the house in Great Neck, which replicated the
experience the Altmans
were having as adult children trying to stuff themselves and their messy,
grown-up lives back
into the rooms and corridors they shared as children. "What was unique about
movie was that we were in this house together for the better part of a month,"
he says. "We
hung out as a family and, when we weren't shooting, we were upstairs in the
lying on the bed and either talking about the scene or about life. The close
quarters made for
some discomfort, but also a great togetherness. There was a beautiful modesty in
the scale of
the film, which I believe really comes across on screen. There was a real
feeling of bonding and
family because we were all together under one roof making the movie. I'm so
happy it worked
out that way."
"It's a fun movie, but it's authentic, and it might bring up some authentic
audiences," Weinstein suggests. Addressing Judd's dilemma and the crux of the
says, "You can plan everything you want and still end up exactly where you
didn't want to go
because that's life, and it just happens. I'd like to feel that people will come
away from this
movie with a smile, and maybe think, 'I'm just going to live my life and love my
crazy family, and
just go for it.'"
"I would hope that all of my movies are unified by a certain kind of
positivity and lack of
cynicism," Levy concludes. "When you're sitting in the dark with an audience and
hear that wave
of laughter sort of envelop you, it's awesome. But as satisfying as it is to
hear those big laughs,
hearing the occasional hush and maybe some sniffling is equally satisfying, and
I hope that's as
much a part of what audiences will get out of this movie as the laughter."
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