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  • This is Where I Leave You and storytelling

    Matt and I have a terrible backlog of movies. We'll buy a movie, or have a movie given to us, and I kid you not, there's a 50/50 chance that it will sit on our shelves for a year before we get around to watching it. I don't know why, exactly. It's not that we don't like movies. We're just really bad at watching movies. 

    Not that you care about that.

    Anyway, I finally got around to watching This is Where I Leave You a couple weeks ago. I wasn't expecting much, because I got the dvd from my parents, who were both very meh about it. 

    But much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Then again, I really like movies that are snapshots of a character's life over a short period of time. Movies that have comedic moments, but on the whole aren't slapstick comedies. So this fit the bill for me.

    What really impressed me about this movie though (and has made me really eager to read the book at some point) is how the characters were handled. See, a while back, I had an epiphany of sorts, that we think of ourselves as the main characters in our story, and everyone else is a side character. But everyone has their own stories, their own problems, that we are often completely unaware of. 

    While Judd (Jason Bateman) is certainly the focal point of the movie, and the character that everyone else revolves around, each character has a pretty well thought out story arc. No one is a throwaway character in the move - something is happening to everyone. They may be all brought together by their father/husband's death, but Judd just split up from his cheating wife, Paul and his wife are trying (and struggling) to have a baby, Wendy is not only raising two kids with a man she is kind of apathetic about, but she has to deal with the regret of leaving an early love. 

    There's a lot going on. The movie gives touchstones where the characters come together to deal with one crisis or another, but everyone has their own problems to deal with. I love when a movie (or book) does this. Even side characters need backstories and problems. Too often they get swept under the rug for the sole purpose of being a plot point or sidekick to the main character's story. When it's clear that even the side characters have their own lives, I am impressed. 

    Another thing to note, is that the characters' personal baggage also affects how they interact with each other. Philip, the youngest, may be a charming playboy, but when it comes to his siblings, he is almost begging for their approval. There's a scene where Philip tells Wendy that she, not either of their parents, is the voice he hears in his head, because he feels that she raised him. It's a moment of vulnerability that wouldn't have played out between him and another character. Judd's desire for privacy keeps him from telling his family about his martial issues, keeping him aloof from the family for a good part of the movie. 

    Characters that are well fleshed out and interact with each other in a way that reflects their own neuroses and baggage is great to see. This movie is a wonderful example of that, so if you're looking for an example for your own work (or just something to appreciate), I recommend checking it out. Bonus: It took me so long to see this movie that no doubt the dvd is cheaper than it would have been a year and a half ago.