Magazine article The New Yorker

Home Improvement

Magazine article The New Yorker

Home Improvement

Article excerpt

HOME IMPROVEMENT

On a steamy morning in Manhas-set, Shawn Levy's dream house shimmered like a mirage: a white-brick-and-clapboard affair on a lake of Long Island lawn. Levy, a director known for such family-friendly hits as "Cheaper by the Dozen" and the "Night at the Museum" series, stood in the street, admiring the place he rented last year as the setting for "This Is Where I Leave You." His R-rated film, which opens later this month, is about four quarrelsome siblings who sit shivah in their childhood home after their father's death. The house, Levy said, "had to feel immediately inviting, but not lavish. It had to have a filmable rooftop," for a pair of scenes where Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, playing the middle children, drink on the roof and discuss their lousy marriages. "And it had to be on a cul-de-sac, like in the book. Even Tropper"--Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the novel and adapted it for the screen--"said, 'It doesn't literally need to be a dead end.' But for me it really did. When I moved into my dad's house in Montreal, at thirteen, it was on a cul-de-sac. And the mess and cacophony there--with four siblings and street hockey and touch football on the street--saved me."

The forty-six-year-old director hooked his sunglasses into his jeans. He has warm brown eyes and a gravelly voice, and recounts his doings in the urgent manner of an Animal Planet documentary. "We shot it cheap, $19.4 million, and I took five per cent of my usual salary to be free of marketplace exigencies," he said. "So that when I wanted Adam Driver"--for the impulsive youngest sibling, Phillip--"I could get him instead of, oh, I don't want to name names, but Zac Efron." Even the changes he made from the book, he said, were in the service of truth. In the novel, and early versions of the script, Bateman's character comes home with a birthday cheesecake to surprise his wife, lights the candles, finds her in bed with his boss, and rams the cake into his boss's nearest aperture. Levy explained that, when he discussed the prospective film with his friend Owen Wilson, he said, " 'Are you literally going to shove a cake up someone's ass and have his balls set on fire?' And I realized that a guy getting his scrotum lit on fire in the first five minutes would be broadly comedic and not the realistic way I wanted this film to go. …

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