REVIEWS: This is Where I Leave You, The Babadook, Serena, and Love, Rosie
Families are only funny if they're dysfunctional. The one portrayed in Shaun Levy's joshing comedy This Is Where I Leave You (3*,. 15A, 103mins) has more problems than most, but none so serious that they won't be ironed out in the obligatory soothing coda.
Jason Bateman is very good at radiating gentle melancholy, and here plays a man with plenty to be blue about. Dax Shepard comes home early one day to find his wife in bed with his boss. Then he gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) to tell him their father has died.
Back he goes to his small home-town for the funeral, at which his mother Hillary (Jane Fonda), a bestselling author with terrifying surgically enhanced breasts, makes a surprising announcement. Her four children will be expected to sit Shiva with their father for seven long days, a prospect that fills Dax, Wendy, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) with dread.
But over a tense and eventful week, secrets will be aired, bonds strengthened, and fortune-cookie wisdom dispensed by the bucket-load.
This Is Where I Leave You has some funny moments, but is too neat and pat for its own good. And why is it always the prettiest woman in the world (in this case, Rose Byrne) who plays the old girlfriend who got left behind?
Lean, mean and commendably focused, Jennifer Kent's Australian horror film The Babadook (4*, 15A, 94mins) shows just how much you can achieve with a small budget and a lot of imagination.
Essie Davis is Amelia, a hard-working single mother who appears to have arrived at the end of herself. Her husband died in a car crash on the day her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) was born, and Amelia has never quite recovered. She's managed to communicate her unhappiness to Samuel, who's now six and psychologically challenged. Recently he's been plagued by nightmares about a monster who lives in the basement, and has become convinced the creature is real. Amelia thinks he's lying until a sinister pop-up book about 'The Babadook' begins showing up all over the house. And every time she destroys it, it returns.
Jennifer Kent's feature is beautifully made and cleverly filmed and paced. It's one of the most satisfying horror films I've seen in a while, and ends on a refreshingly original note.
Made after Silver Linings Playbook, but before American Hustle, Serena (2*, 15A, 111mins) stars Hollywood's reigning romantic dream team as star-crossed pioneer lovers. Nineteen-Twenties timber baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is attending a boring garden party when he first catches sight of Serena (Jennifer Lawrence). She's beautiful, but trouble, but old George falls in love with her anyway, and Serena causes a world of difficulty when he takes her to his Carolina logging camp.
Based on a novel by Ron Rash, Serena is pompous, stiff, drab and dreary, and the fizzing chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence that David O Russell so brilliantly captured is curiously absent here. It's a thoroughly miserable little film.
Love, Rosie (2*, 15A, 130mins) is based on Cecelia Ahern's extremely successful 2004 novel, Where Rainbow's End, which may have been a masterpiece though on this evidence I doubt it. Filmed mainly in Dublin but set in London, the film stars Lily Collins as Rosie Dunne, a sparky young woman who's been best friends with a boy called Alex (Sam Claflin) for years. What neither knows is that they secretly love each other, and both must watch aghast from the sidelines as each makes a mess of their lives.
It's soppy stuff, not nearly funny enough, and Lily Collins' sterling efforts are mainly in vain.
Nightcrawler (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo); Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall); The Guarantee (Peter Coonan, Gary Lydon); Ouija (Olivia Cooke).