This is Where I Leave You

By Di Golding

Mailed on October 03, 2014

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Dear G.A. Aguilar
Stunt Coordinator

Dear G.A.,

Some might find it strange that a dialogue-driven, ensemble dramedy like This Is Where I Leave You required any stunts. Those people are probably only-children.

When my brothers and I were kids, we used to stage fights. Mostly in slow-motion with the "nun-nun-nun-nun" sound effect from The Six Million Dollar Man to accompany punches that purposely didn't make contact. But sometimes we got into serious fights, with real blood and broken furniture and punches that were most certainly meant to connect. You must have siblings as well. From the fight scenes, stunt driving, and various choreographed physicality executed by you and your team, it would seem that you have a firm grasp of complex family dynamics.

This Is Where I Leave You also fights a lot with its proverbial parent – the novel. The film suffers from the typical book-to-film adaptation problem where there's just too much story to pack into 100 minutes. This film is genuinely funny, poignant, and true, with fine performances that unfortunately only scratch the surface of a deeper truth about family and forgiveness.

When the patriarch of the Altman family dies, his widow demands their four adult children spend the week mourning together in the family home. Which means the Altman siblings will regress, fight, mourn, and make some heavy life decisions over the course of those seven days.

Middle son Judd takes a physical and emotional beating in this film, and Jason Bateman is certainly a deft enough actor to handle the challenge of skating the thin line between comedy and drama. It helps that you made sure the stunts never feel like slapsticky pratfalls. In an early scene, Judd attempts to break up a particularly ugly fight between his brothers and gets a piece of glass embedded in his forehead for his trouble. After a sufficiently appropriate pause, the rest of the family continues talking and eating like nothing happened. The scene is noteworthy, not because it's played for humour, but because it's played for honesty. This film reminds us that in a big family, you're not more important than anyone else. You just have to take your lumps and move on.

You could apply that philosophy to your job, which requires you to coordinate with many different departments - from makeup and costumes, to prop masters, effects coordinators, and of course, the producers and director. That's a lot of egos to manage, and it's important that they are all given equal consideration. It seems that director, Shawn Levy, felt the same way about his talent-heavy cast. Working from a screenplay adapted from Jonathan Tropper's novel, Levy had a lot of character arcs to juggle, so it's no surprise he had a hard time keeping them all in the air. In addition to Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Connie Britton all punch well above their weight here with the juicy, multi-dimensional characters they get to play. But it's too much of a good thing. While Levy was spoiled for choice, the audience is starving for a little depth of focus.

Regardless of a film's genre, when stunts are done well they are suspenseful and clever, and exciting to watch. When done poorly, they're confusing, repetitive and can bring the narrative to a screeching halt. The same can be said for ensemble pieces. The problem isn't that This Is Where I Leave You doesn't hit all its marks, it's that there are just too many marks to hit. And Levy tries to hit them all. Maybe he should have consulted you first.

Keep your chin up,


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