Jeff, Who Lives at Home (United States, 2011)March 15, 2012
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the second mainstream offering from mumblecore* directors Jay & Mark Duplass. The brothers took their first stab at reaching a broader audience with 2010's Cyrus, an affecting drama that demonstrated Jonah Hill's ability to act (rather than look awkward and spout profanity). Jeff, Who Lives at Home is less successful, with a Zen theme that is expressed with the elegance of a bad Yoda sound byte and a group of supporting characters whose stories don't quite gel. In fact, that's the overall problem with Jeff, Who Lives at Home. It feels incomplete and the ending is entirely too convenient.
We've seen all of this before. The mismatched brothers who discover they're more important to one another than either initially suspects. The world-weary mother who rediscovers the joy of life and sees her sons in a new light. The troubled married couple who finds a way to give their relationship a second chance. And the stoner loner who is searching for the meaning of life. He should have consulted Monty Python.
Jeff (Jason Segel), 30 years old and unemployed, lives with his mom. He has no friends, no love life, and does little beyond smoke weed and refine a philosophy that argues there's no such thing as chance and everything is connected. So, when someone calling a wrong number asks for "Kevin," Jeff begins his search. His tightly wound brother, Pat (Ed Helms), is undergoing a mid-life crisis. His marriage to Linda (Judy Greer) is on the rocks and his irresponsible behavior is pushing it to its end. Jeff and Pat's mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), dreads going home and finds a spark of mystery at work when a "secret admirer" sends her an intra-office IM. Anyone unable to guess the identity of the secret admirer after a couple of scenes with Sharon has never heard of the Law of Conservation of Characters.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home has an easygoing style, which is a kind way of saying there's not much energy. It's sporadically funny, although in a low-key fashion, but its insights into life are less than impressive. One could argue that more wisdom can be found on the slip of paper in a fortune cookie. Yoda is explicitly referenced and he seems to be one of Jeff's heroes. Although Jeff gets the most screen time, he is easily the least interesting member of the movie's ensemble. The best scenes feature Pat and Linda, with Judy Greer once again illustrating how she can dominate in a supporting role (see The Descendants for another recent example). The Sharon material is diverting, but seems like it belongs in another movie.
If there's a reason to see Jeff, Who Lives at Home other than Greer, it's because Segal is finally given a chance to do something beyond playing the big doofus. As they did with Hill in Cyrus, the Duplass Brothers have given a comedian an opportunity to play a role that highlights dramatic elements. Ever since his full frontal scene with Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it has been difficult to take Segal seriously. His work here presents him with an opportunity to re-shape his image.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home climaxes with one of those big scenes that brings all the characters together and resolves most of the plot threads. Strangely, however, it is devoid of dramatic tension and fails to provide much of an emotional payoff. There's a sense that all the stories come together in the way we expect them to - there are no surprises and no moments to stir the soul. In truth, the movie as a whole feels like that. It's low-key and predictable with a lot of dialogue and character arcs that feel more like wishful thinking than true development. There's an undeniable mumblecore influence at work here, and it is not to the movie's benefit. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is short enough not to wear out its welcome but the payoff is so slim that the investment of any serious time or effort is unlikely to be repaid in full.
*mumblecore: a term used to describe a number of American independent films produced in the early 2000's characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors. [from Wikipedia]
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (United States, 2011)
Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong
Screenplay: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Cinematography: Jas Shelton
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Vantage