First Hit: Moments of brilliance with moments of negating over the top behavior.
The Altman family gathers together because the father has died. Hillary (Jane Fonda) is the widow and her 4 children come to pay their respects to their father. She states that their father wanted the children to sit 7 days of Shiva. Reluctantly the children sit in chairs that are too low to the floor and begin the process of relating to each other again.
This could have been a more powerful story with comedy woven in, however the behavior of the adult children, especially youngest son Phillip (Adam Driver), turned me off to what could have been a more compelling story. Scenes where he turns up the baby monitor, in front of all the guests, to hear his brother and sister-in-law have sex at their father’s Shiva was tasteless.
Yes, it was supposed to be funny but it came off as insensitive. Then there were the physical fight scenes – where the brothers were in fisticuffs with each other over petty stuff – just seemed to be more than needed. However, there were also great touching scenes of both the comedic and sensitive nature.
Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) hitting her brother Judd’s (Jason Bateman) former boss Wade (Dax Shepard) because he slept with Judd’s wife was priceless. Just as was the scene of the brothers smoking the pot left in their father’s jacket while in a classroom at the Jewish temple – very funny, revealing and a true family and brotherly like moment.
Bateman was effective as the guy who has lived a very controlled precise predictable life and has had it turned upside down. His character change to someone that is willing to add a bit of complication in his life was very good. Fey was adorable as the sister among 3 very different brothers. She held her own both based on the role as well as her acting strength. Corey Stoll (as oldest brother Paul) was very good. He definitely had the older responsible, stay with the family business attitude down. Driver was good, but I didn’t like the script for him. It made him seem both dumb and ridiculous and he was really neither. Rose Byrne (Penny Moore) as Bateman’s old childhood friend was fantastic. I would have liked more of her in the film. Fonda was a hit. She really had me each time she was on the screen. I’ve loved her since the 1960’s (Cat Ballou – 1965 – where I first enjoyed her dramatic and comedic turns). Shepard was strong as the affected self-absorbed Disc Jockey. Jonathan Tropper wrote an occasionally strong and often misguided script. Shawn Levy didn’t seem to have a really clear direction as to what he wanted: Drama with great laughs or a comedy with some high-school like behavior out of adults while dealing with a serious subject.
Overall: This film had glimpses and the possibility of being much better than it ended up being.