I absolutely love Jonathan Tropper’s novels, and this one was the first one I read because I had seen the trailer for the movie and discovered that it was an adaptation so I had to read it. The novel is brilliant. Equal parts beautiful, hilarious, and tragic, Tropper takes us on a journey along with his main character Judd Foxman (changed to Altman in the movie) who has just had his life turned completely upside down. After finding his wife in bed with his boss, which leads to him losing his marriage and job in one fell swoop, he falls into a deep depression and isolates himself away from the world. He is happily ignoring the fact that’s life as he knows it is ending when a phone call changes everything.
He is informed by his sister, Wendy, that his father has just passed away after having been sick for months. He is also informed that it was the last wishes of his father that all of his children and his wife sit shiva, the Jewish tradition in which a family mourns for seven days and essentially put their lives on hold in order to mourn properly.
Coming home for Judd is always complicated, and this time it’s even more so because he hasn’t told anyone but Wendy about his impending divorce and must make up an excuse for his wife’s absence. Old tensions begin to arise as soon as Judd walks through the door of his childhood home and begins to interact with his siblings. His big sister Wendy has always been his closest sibling and confidante, and is never afraid to call Judd out on his bullshit. Paul, the oldest, was the one sibling who stayed home to help their father run the family business which has left him somewhat bitter, and his wife Annie used to date Judd prior to getting together with Paul, which is a fact that their baby brother Phillip loves to bring up because he finds it hilarious. Paul and Annie are having trouble having a baby, which is causing Annie a lot of heartache and she doesn’t feel like Paul cares as much about having a baby as she does. Phillip, the baby of the family, brings home a much older woman who obviously very wealthy which causes the family to question his motives, being that he is the family screw up. The siblings have all taken turns bailing Phillip out of his various schemes that go awry, but Phillip is desperate to show his family that he is a changed man who finally has his life together. Coming home isn’t just painful for Judd, it is more so for Wendy, who essentially lost the love of her life, Horry, when he suffered a terrible brain injury after an accident which caused him to turn into a person she no longer knew and would always have to care for like a child, leading her to leave home to pursue a life she’s not happy with. Horry is the son of their mother’s best friend and their next door neighbor, so avoiding him and the heartache seeing him brings is simply impossible. Despite loving her two children dearly, she knows that her marriage is nothing more than a marriage of convenience, affording her a lavish lifestyle which happens to include a largely absent husband.
Their mother Hilary is a well-known author, having written a non-fiction book on parenting by exploiting the childhoods of the four siblings, which is also a point of contention among the remaining members of the family. The more time the family is forced to spend together, the more they remember why they don’t see each other very often: they don’t get along. Tensions that have remained for years end up boiling over, causing intense fighting among the siblings.
While home, Judd runs into an old flame of his, Penny, who still lives in town and is still single and still very much in love with Judd. He finds himself having feelings for her again and they begin spending time together, and things are going extremely well until Judd finds out that his ex-wife Jen (Quinn in the book) is pregnant. He dismisses her and refuses to believe it’s his child, but as it turns out, his boss aka his wife’s lover is sterile and unable to have children.
Despite their dysfunction, when it comes down to it, they are always there for each other and they find comfort in the fact that even though by their respective ages they’re supposed to have their lives figured out, they each have their own issues that they need to work through and none of them have the perfect lives they so deeply wanted to prove they had.
The movie had the perfect cast, and the fact that Jonathan Tropper wrote the screenplay made it all the better. The director, Sean Levy, know for his comedic films, was able to really dig into the emotional turmoil Judd and the rest of the characters were experiencing and dealing with in their own ways. He was also able to pull the comedic moments from the dramatic scenes to make them still pack an emotional punch but also find the comedy that exists in even our most vulnerable and sad moments.
Jason Bateman was the perfect Judd and brought so much sincerity to the role, and the whole star studded cast did an amazing job bringing the characters to life.
Tina Fey as Wendy Altman was a perfect choice, and I think her ability to tap into her dramatic side as an actor surprised most people, but her comedic chops were still in full effect and brought levity to some of the heavier scenes. Corey Stoll as Paul, the bitter and somewhat cynical oldest sibling who felt like it was his duty to stay close to home and help their father run the family business who is also holding on to old grudges, was able to portray that perfectly and even show that despite his feelings he still loves his siblings. Kathryn Hahn as Annie, who played Paul wife, desperate to have a baby and that sadness and vulnerability came across the screen flawlessly. Rose Byrne as Penny was perfect as well, and she is a great actress and brought that character to life in the best way possible.
Adam Driver as Phillip was a revelation, he was genuine and he played the desperateness he feels in wanting to prove himself as something more than the family screw up. No one could have played Hilary Altman and brought the maternal presence, strength and love for her children to life the way she did.
The rest of the cast was just great, and although they cut out a few of the smaller storylines, the story didn’t suffer for it and in fact I think the movie was better because of it. I loved the movie and have watched it a ton of times, and I really hope they adapt more of Jonathan Tropper’s books and that Sean Levy directs it because he did such a great job creating the world of this film.
Coming up, an interview with the amazing author of Dear Amy by Helen Calaghan, and reviews of All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.
Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!