After you've had your fill of apples, honey, and family bonding this High Holiday season, find your way to a theater near you to watch somebody else's dysfunctional Jewish family in the new film dramedy "This is Where I Leave You."
The film, which hits theaters Sept. 19, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah, is adapted by Jewish New York writer Jonathan Tropper from his novel of the same name.
It's the story of four adult siblings returning to their childhood home to sit shiva (weeklong mourning period for close family members)-along with their sexy widow mother-for their late father. The week at the house turns into a parade of crazy family antics and a revolving door of spouses, exes, and ones that got away. The story is told from the perspective of the brother Judd, who has just caught his wife cheating on him with his boss. The ensemble film cast includes Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, and Dax Shepard.
Tropper recently did a phone interview with JUF News, and talked about adapting his book to the big screen, the Jewish sensibility of all his characters Jewish and not, and the mishegas in every family.
JUF News: How did the idea for the book originate?
Jonathan Tropper: The book was not supposed to be
about shiva. It wasn't even supposed about Jewish people. The book was
really about a guy facing the end of his marriage and at a crossroads in his
life. As I was writing the book, I wasn't really excited about it. At around
page 125, I had him go home for his father's 70th birthday party…it was only once I started writing about his siblings and his mother that I realized the book was coming to life.
Does everyone's family have a little mishegas (craziness)?
One's family's normal is another family's crazy. Everyone's family is its own universe with its own governing principles and it doesn't necessarily make sense to every other family.
How similar are you and Judd, played by Jason Bateman in the movie?
Any writer is going to have some input into a character he creates, but nothing that's happened to Judd has ever happened to me. One of the nice things when you write a book or movie is you can give people much sharper wit and worse behavior than you have. In some ways, any character that you write has an aspect of wish fulfillment in how they talk, act, or misbehave.
This is, for the most part, a comedy with a focus on the death of a loved one. Is it okay to laugh about death?
It doesn't matter if it's okay or not-you're going to and everybody does. It's evident in every book I write. Life is equal parts tragedy and comedy and they often come hand in hand.
What was your own Jewish upbringing like?
I was raised in (Riverdale) New York in a modern Orthodox household and went to Jewish day school and I learned all the "stuff." I didn't really have to do very much research about shiva because I've been to about a million shivas.
How does your Jewish identity inform your writing?
It informs what you do whether you want it to or not. I remember once speaking to somebody about one of my books and saying that the characters [in that book] aren't Jewish. And she said, 'All of your characters are Jewish whether you call them that or not.'
The movie comes out just days before Rosh Hashanah, and in the book, Judd says Rosh Hashanah was always a really big deal in his family. You write, "Every year as summer bled into fall, the call would come, more a summons than an invitation, and we would descend upon [our childhood home]." Why is Rosh Hashanah important to you?
…You find yourself looking at where you've come, looking at the past year, hoping for improvement. Certainly now, we're at a particular time when the world in general is in a lot of strife…and everybody would like to think we're heading into better, more enlightened times.
How does the book writing process versus the movie making process compare?
When you write a novel, you're the writer, the director, the actors, and the producer. You're everything and nobody else can touch it and there's something great about that. But there's also something great about writing something and then watching it take on a life of its own, and other creative forces getting involved and collaborating with you.
What is your hope that people take from the book and the movie?
Family will save you whether you like it or not. The process may not be pleasant, but family will always save you.