I really can't wait to see the adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You which I discovered and blogged about a year ago. It's mostly because I'm a major fan of the legendary Jane Fonda who stars as Hillary Foxman, the celebrity child shrink who compels her family to sit shiva after her husband and the father of their four adult children dies. Sitting shiva, fyi dear gentile readers, is the traditional Jewish way to mourn the death of a close family member, and calls for the family to gather together for 7 days (shiva = seven) while friends and other relatives come, often bearing food, to pay their respects and share memories. Seven days together with your family.
In the case of the Foxmans, the four adult children -Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll) - come in various stages of reluctance and wariness, depending on their personal baggage, which they all bring in spades. The truth is I kind of adore all these actors; Jason Bateman for Arrested Development and his immature schmuck in Juno, Adam Driver for his odd but ultimately lovable Adam character in Girls, Corey Stoll for his fatally flawed Congressman Russo in House of Cards and Tina Fey because she's Tina Fey. They're joined by an assortment of 'spouses,exes and might-have-beens', among them, Jen(Abigail Spencer), Judd's former wife now having an affair with his boss, Wade Boulanger (Dax Shepherd) and Penny (Rose Byrne) a woman Judd crushed on in high school. Connie Britten is Phillip's older girlfriend Tracy, and Timothy Olyphant is Horry, Wendy's old neighborhood beau, brain damaged in a tragic accident, while Debra Monk plays his mother Linda, who has a very, very interesting role indeed. If you haven't read the book, you'll have to see the movie for that one!
The novel was magnificent, one of those books that brings you laughing all the way through its poignant, heartfelt look at these rich, very human, very messed up, very real lives. I found an article by Anthony Breznican at Entertainment Weekly which I'm going to share in full here. Breznican went to BookCon back in May as did author and screenwriter Tropper, and director Shawn Levy along with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman. "This is Where I Leave You: Six Movie Revelations from BookCon" tells us what he learned there. It's an enlightening and entertaining piece and I thought you might enjoy it as well. The very first question - why the family's name has been changed - is a question I ask constantly about character names that are different in the movie version of various novels; now I know!
Here's Breznican's piece, enjoy and don't miss the trailer for the film, below.
WHY THE FAMILY’S NAME CHANGED
In the novel, the dysfunctional family is named the Foxmans, but the studio had trouble getting legal clearance for that.
“You have to submit names of all the characters, and if there are real people with those names in the community or area represented in the movie, you can’t use that name,” Levy said. “And we didn’t want to change the first names.”
“So Shawn and I started emailing back and forth vaguely Jewish names,” Tropper said.
“I have a friend I do that with, too,” Fey interjected.
Bateman joked that “vaguely Jewish” was “also one of the titles we were thinking about.”
SAVING FAVORITE LINES
The novel is written in the first-person, with Judd Foxman Altman narrating his own story. But a movie naturally can’t have the same interior perspective, at least not with a crushing amount of narration.
Levy was afraid of losing some of the more memorable lines from the book, so he went through and marked up a copy of the book to highlight narration he wanted Tropper to reconfigure into dialogue.
“I underline everything I loved,” Levy said. “And I still have that copy. I wanted the movie to be, if anything, more faithful to the book.”
NOT KNOWING WHETHER TO LAUGH OR CRY
Both Fey, who plays Wendy (the not-so-happily married mom of two) and Bateman, who plays the sad-sack Judd (whose wife has just him for his boss) are primarily known for comedies. But obviously there’s a lot about the characters that is more melancholy than funny.
Bateman says he was surprised that some of the saddest moments, such as the opening scene where he gets word of his father’s death, actually result in some of the biggest laughs.
“[Tropper] creates these emotionally vulnerable situations which is really the grounding of comedy anyway,” the actor said. “There’s nothing funny about somebody who’s bullet proof. So the comedy was always right there for you to grab if you wanted to.”
TINA FEY WILL BEAT YOU UP
One of the scenes invented for the movie was a battle between Fey and Bateman when the sister starts trying to get her brother to reveal the secret of his marriage breakup.
They go from trading whispered insults to actually grappling in front of a houseful of mourners.
It helps when you give opposite direction to your actors,” Levy said. “I would whisper in Jason’s ear: ‘Shut her up.’ And I would go to Tina: ‘Make him confess.’ The only note I ever gave her was, ‘Pull his hair harder.’”
“This came off three times!” Bateman joked, wiggling his hair like a wig.
“It ended up backwards,” Fey said.
“Is it on straight now?” Bateman asked.
TINA FEY WILL BEAT YOU UP — PART II
Another change to the book takes place later in the story, when Judd is at the hospital with his brother Phillip (Adam Driver) and his sister Wendy, only to come face-to-face with his ex-boss Wade (Dax Shephard), who gets pushy over his affair with Judd’s wife.
In the novel, Wade ends up getting decked in the face by Phillip (seen here getting the dreaded Purple Nurple in another scene.) But Levy and Tropper decided it might be more interesting if the sister stepped in instead. “I’m certified in stage combat,” Fey joked.
“Wendy is always giving advice to Judd, but we thought it would be good to have Tina make Wendy stand up for her brother and take out Wade,” Levy said.
The actress didn’t just clock Shephard, she made up the insults that provoke the character to throw the punch. “You won’t find many actors who give an insult about themselves to another actor to say to them!” Levy said.
“The way I saw it is, we were getting some free writing from Tina Fey,” Tropper added. “And I could take credit for it!”
JANE FONDA LOVED HER FAKE BOOBS
In both the movie and the book, Jane Fonda’s character of the widowed mother is uncomfortably frank about her sexuality, and has recently had … augmentation. The way they created that in the film is with kind of rubber chest-plate that had anatomically correct (and massive) breasts.
“Jane said, ‘I want to see the top prosthetician in L.A. and get really, really big boobs,” Levy said. “They look completely real, and we would be sitting at lunch and she would just go, ‘Oops …’” He mimed a robe falling open.
“To Jane, it was like wearing a chest plate,” Levy said. “She would, like, flash passing-by cars!”
How can you not love a woman like that!
Let's watch the trailer!