Sophia Takal (Green) Talks Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You

A Jewish filmmaker goes to see a comedy about a Jewish family's funeral gathering and wonders who's coming to shiva, and why.

Over the holiday break, Talkhouse Film is running some favorite pieces from 2014, as chosen by its contributors. Check back in the new year for the Talkhouse Film’s Top Films of 2014 and the full results of the site’s end-of-year poll. — N.D.

As a Jewish filmmaker, I have dreamed of writing a movie about a Jewish holiday or event. Somewhere on some desktop computer from 8th grade I’ve got at least 15 pages.

What I’m sure the script doesn’t say is: WENDY, 40s, married with two kids and a workaholic husband. A quintessential JAP replete with princess cut diamond ring. Think: TINA FEY.


Here is what I imagine the conversation went when Shawn Levy pitched This Is Where I Leave You:

Shawn: I have a passion project. I’ve brought you so many great films. It’s a movie about Jews sitting Shiva.

Studio: Does it have to be Jews? Does it have to be Shiva?

Shawn: Yes because Shiva is seven days so it gives us lots of time for all those heart to hearts between all of the family members.

Studio: Who’s going to be in it?

Shawn: Tina Fey.

Studio: Tina Fey is Jewish?

Shawn: No, but we’ll just make the family not Jewish.

Studio: So it doesn’t have to be Shiva?

Shawn: No it still needs to be Shiva because we need time for all the heart to heart monologues we wrote. And since it’s based on a book about Jews at Shiva.

Studio: So she is Jewish?

Shawn: Well no, we’ll make the mom not Jewish and that’ll explain it.

Studio: So why are they sitting Shiva?

Shawn: So there is time for the heart to hearts and so Tina Fey gets a lot of chances to try to cry.

Studio: Who else is in it?

Shawn: Jason Bateman.

Studio: He’s Jewish.

Shawn: No, he’s not. His last name just sounds Jewish.

Studio: Oh.

Shawn: Look, we’ll make them half Jewish. And cast a bunch of Jewish-looking people.

Studio: Jewish looking?

Shawn: Yeah, you know, offbeat. Not conventionally good looking. No one will know the difference.

Studio: Sounds good.


Larry & I went to see this movie in Monterey, a 45 minute drive from the seclusion of Big Sur. We got there early so wandered around the mall. I got to check out Hot Topic and Claire’s and all the other dope stores I went to as a kid.

Then I bought movie tickets from this really nice lady. I asked to take her picture because I was writing about my experience and she got excited and said I inspired her to write about her own experiences on a blog. I think she thought I had a personal blog I was writing about. This is what she looked like:


The movie was inauthentic to the core.


Remember when Angelina Jolie played a Cuban person?


Remember when The Guilt Trip never mentioned the main characters were Jewish?


Ben Stiller
Sascha Baron Cohen
Mila Kunis
Sarah Silverman
Jenny Slate
Adam Sandler
Dustin Hoffman
Seth Rogen
Jonah Hill
Mel Brooks
Barbara Streisand
Bette Midler
Billy Crystal
Jerry Seinfeld
Larry David
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
James Caan
Scott Caan
Jeff Goldblum
Dianna Agron
Isla Fischer
Bryan Greenberg
Paul Rudd
Lisa Kudrow
Jesse Eisenberg
Ari Graynor
Simon Helberg
Emmy Rossum
Lizzy Caplan
Shia La Boeuf
Evan Rachel Wood
Anton Yelchin
Natalie Portman
Scarlett Johnasson
Jake Gyllenhaal
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Ben Foster
Kyra Sedgwick
Jeremy Piven
Julianna Margulies
Rachel Weisz
Winona Ryder
Amanda Peet
Zach Braff
Michelle Trachtenberg
Kat Dennings
Natasha Lyonne
Adam Goldberg
Bebe Neuwirth
Bob Balaban
Carl Reiner
Woody Allen
Alex Karpovsky
Christopher Guest
David Cross
David Krumholtz
David Schwimmer
Debra Messing
Don Rickles
Charles Grodin
Elliott Gould
George Segal
Ellen Barkin
Andrew Garfield
Garry Shandling
Gina Gershon
Jon Stewart
Harvey Keitel
Henry Winkler
Goldie Hawn
Adam Brody
Albert Brooks
Jason Schwartzman
David Duchovny
Richard Dreyfuss
Judd Hirsch
Steve Guttenberg
Eugene Levy
Samm Levine
Richard Lewis
Rick Moranis
Rob Morrow
Mandy Patinkin
Daniel Radcliffe
Josh Radnor
Paul Reiser
Andy Samberg
Liev Schreiber
Pablo Schreiber
Jason Segel
Jeffrey Tambor

Not Jewish:
Tina Fey
Adam Driver
Jason Bateman
Kathryn Hahn
Jane Fonda


From: Nick Dawson
To: Sophia Takal
Date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 8:36 PM

Hey Sophia,

Because of how we title out pieces (basically “[Filmmaker] Talks [Name of Film]”), it makes it difficult for your “Guess Who’s Coming to Shiva” idea to be that prominent. I love the audaciousness of the piece being just these lists, and I don’t think you should ditch any of this, but I think it still needs something more. I want more of you in the piece!

Do you want to chat about this briefly tomorrow?


From: Sophia Takal
To: Nick Dawson
Date: Monday, September 22, 2014 at 9:41 AM

Shit, Nick. I know you’re right but I had a very hard time figuring
out a fun and creative way of discussing how inauthentic this film was
… I tried really hard but my thoughts were very scattered and
everything that came out seemed, well, as dumb as the movie itself.

Talking on the phone is hard because I’m in Big Sur but let’s try to
come up with something good together. Via e-mail?


From: Nick Dawson
To: Sophia Takal
Date: Monday, September 22, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Just sent you a Gchat invite, so maybe we can communicate that way?


Sophia Takal

Nick Dawson
I gotta run in a second…
But I have one small thought
Which is to make the struggle to write about the film part of the piece
The piece could even just be made up of different aborted attempts to write about the film?
I’m spitballing here…

Sophia Takal
yes! sounds good.

Sophia Takal is an actor/director/producer. She directed the feature film Green and is editing a new one called Always Shine. She produces and acts in her husband, writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s movies like Gabi on the Roof in July and Wild Canaries, which just came out on Netflix! She also acts in other people’s movies.