Recently, I attended an advance screening of the bestselling book-turned film, “This Is Where I Leave You.” Held on the historical Warner Brothers lot, there was much to see and do. Our group of bloggers was treated to a luncheon. Then, we had a roundtable Q&A discussion with international bestselling author and screenwriter Jonathan Tropper. He’s a truly gifted storyteller, that’s captured relatable characters – albeit endearingly flawed.
What inspired you to write this book?
Jonathan Tropper: I love languages. I need somebody to look at that to know what you were talking about.
Where did it come from? What character spoke to you at three o’clock in the morning?
Well, I was writing about Judd. And, it wasn’t about Shiva. It’s about a guy who goes through what he goes through in the first five minutes of the movie. And I just wanted to write about this guy’s downward spiral. And he loses everything and discovers that his whole life was not the perfect life he’d thought it was. And at about 120 pages in, I felt like the character needed another humiliation. And, this is somebody who had already walked in on his wife in bed with his boss. So, I decided he needs to go home and see his own parents.
And so, I wrote a chapter where he goes home for his dad’s 70th birthday party. And that’s where we meet the Foxman’s, who are the Altman’s in the movie. And once I started writing about his siblings and his mother, I suddenly realized, this is where the book is. Then, I just had to figure out why this guy would stay here for more than 10 minutes?
Like what’s going to keep him home enough to tell a story? So, it was either that he was going to be incapacitated. But nobody wants to read a book about a guy who can’t get out of bed because how’s he going to get into trouble? And then, you know. I don’t remember exactly when I thought of it, but I’ll just make them Jewish and make it a Shiva. And so, you know I converted the family. And–.
And that’s where we find language from all of your books. All the characters have flaws.
Well, nobody wants to read about perfect people.
What are some of the messages and themes you hope that people will resonate with?
–But, to me the idea is basically that like people call a dysfunctional family comedy. But I don’t think they’re dysfunctional. I think actually this is a very functional family.
You know the dysfunctional family is that one guy’s not coming because he’s in jail and the other one’s not coming because he hates them. I mean. They might argue and quibble and be weird, but they all show for each other. And, clearly what I really tried hard to do was make sure that even with all the sparring and fighting you see that there’s real connection and love between the siblings.
How hard was it to get it made into a film?
It took five and a half years and a lot of heartache. And you know it’s one of those things where when you look back, you’re like I don’t know why I had the nerve to think we could do this. What I had early on was the studio was the studio really liked the material. It didn’t mean they were going to make it, but they wouldn’t let it die. And I had two producers specifically: Paula Weinstein and Jeff Levine, who produced the movie. Their company’s called Spring Creek Productions. They’re the ones who brought me into Warner Brothers. They were just adamant that this was a movie they wanted to make.
Which one of the cast members was the first one to get on board?
Tina Fey. Shawn had breakfast with Tina. She had read the script. And she signed on. And you know Jason or “Judd” [Bateman] had been involved a year or two earlier in a previous iteration of this project. And once it came back to life, he had just finished directing his first movie. He stated his interest again. And Shawn met with him.
Director Shawn Levy rallied together a dynamic cast. I’m an Old School fan of Jason Bateman since he first appeared as a child star in the ‘80s (The Hogan Family), while Tina Fey is one of my favorite Saturday Night Live characters who’s gone on to dominate any TV and film role she’s offered (30 Rock). Jane Fonda (Coming Home, Klute, Monster-in-Law) puts in a rock-solid performance as Hillary, the psychotherapist nurturing mother, who insists that her children stay for Shiva following the death of her beloved husband. I absolutely adored this adult dramatic comedy. Adam Driver (Star Wars Episode VII, Girls) plays Phillip, the younger brother and delivered a tremendous role that Tropper says he wanted to actually write more scenes for him.
Tropper takes a hard, fast look at an array of topics plaguing numerous communities. His comedic edge leaves it far more appealing and heartwarming. Whether discussing complicated subjects such as in-vitro-fertilization, DNR (do not resuscitate) or dating cougars, you’ll find plenty of places to laugh in this comedy. This Is Where I Leave You is one joyous ride for adults to take on an evening away from the kids. I wholeheartedly recommend this film.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU opens in theaters Sept. 19, 2014.
Rating: R for language, sexual content and some drug use