When their father dies, the Altman kids are summoned home for a week to mourn his passing, a prospect that nobody relishes.
Shawn Levy has been a very successful director for some years — films like Cheaper By The Dozen, Real Steel and a couple of nights at the museum have made hundreds of millions of dollars — but more as a gun for hire than someone with an identifiable cinematic voice. He’s a man who gets the job done, a journeyman. With this low-key ensemble comedy he may have found the thing he’s really good at: people watching.
A common theme in Levy’s biggest hits has been fathers disappointing their children, but here he’s removed the father from the equation. We start with the news that a man has died, leaving behind a cuckolded stick-up-his-butt son (Jason Bateman), an unhappily married daughter (Tina Fey), another son with constant anger problems (Corey Stoll) and a very Adam Driver-ish youngest boy (Adam Driver), plus a wife with no boundaries and brand new boobs (Fonda). Against everyone’s will they’re required to sit Shiva for seven days, a Jewish tradition of mourning/house arrest, in which grief and grievances are poured out. The fact they are not Jewish is a cause for some collective bafflement.
This is a cast who could be entertaining with any material, or with no material, and they don’t disappoint. Fonda has a ripsnorting time being inappropriate at anyone who steps into her sights, Fey leans into a more aggressive role than she’s usually given, and Bateman demonstrates once more that he has the best disappointed face in the business. And the material they have is good. Adapting his own novel, Jonathan Tropper has precisely hit the nature of sibling relationships, that strange way in which someone you shared a home and a childhood with can be both the person who knows you better than anyone in the world and a total stranger. It’s less strong on the family’s various romances, which strive for complications without finding much complexity.
On paper this has a lot of stories, but it’s not plot-heavy. It’s about what happens when you take the top off bottled-up emotions. It’s small and true and funny. Levy should do more of this.
A dream cast are on good form in a film that makes you want to call your siblings, but very glad you dont live with them.