by Steve Habrat
For those of you out there that just can’t turn down a quirky indie comedy, you have probably heard of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a philosophical “dramedy” that opts for subtle humor over hearty gross-out guffaws at every turn. Directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, the guys who brought us the surprise hit Cyrus back in 2010, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a reasonably funny but oddly forgettable examination of one’s destiny and the symbols around them that leads them to their destiny. Mind you, it ponders life’s big questions with a giant joint dangling from its mouth. The film is certainly crafted for the art house crowd and the mumblecore fanatics, which is obvious when its oddball characters hit the stage, the familiar xylophone score kicks in, and the handheld camera begins bopping around, yet the film seems desperate to break away from its arty roots and catapult itself into the mainstream. This is especially apparent with the involvement of Jason Segel and Ed Helms, who are game enough for the project, but seem like they were recruited by the filmmakers to lure in fans of raunchier fare like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Hangover. These comedic giants are given plenty of time to shine and rest assured that they do, but they are overpowered by a bone dry subplot involving their widowed mother, who is searching for love after loss, and a severely off-key ending that nearly destroys everything.
Jeff (Played by Jason Segel) is a 30-year-old stoner that still lives in his widowed mother’s basement. He is unemployed, single, and spends the majority of his time searching for his destiny through random occurrences. He also passes time by overanalyzing the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs, which reinforces his bizarre belief system. One day, Jeff receives a phone call, which is just a wrong number, from someone asking for “Kevin.” Jeff immediately takes this as a sign and he begins searching for someone or something named “Kevin.” While on an errand for his mother, Sharon (Played by Susan Sarandon), Jeff spots a man wearing a jersey that reads “Kevin.” As he pursues this man, Jeff ends up bumping into his cocky older brother, Pat (Played by Ed Helms), who is struggling with his failing marriage. As Jeff and Pat bicker over their rocky relationship, the two spot Pat’s wife, Linda (Played by Judy Greer), with another man. Naturally, Jeff and Pat come to the conclusion that Linda is having an affair and decide to follow her. What their journey ultimately leads them to will change both of their lives forever. Meanwhile, the heartbroken and lonely Sharon finds herself getting strange messages from an office admirer.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home benefits from being grounded in the real world, a staple of these mumblecore films that have become increasing popular over the past few years. The Duplass brothers emphasize this realism with shaky hand held camerawork that finds them zooming in slightly to catch growing frustration on Linda’s face as Pat informs her that he blew all their money on a Porche or Pat’s deflating enthusiasm as Linda lays into him (Trust me when I say they use this little trick in nearly every scenen). After a while, I just found myself getting irritated with this camera technique and wished the brothers would drop it entirely. Then we have the down-to-earth characters, which are dealing with shockingly ordinary and relatable problems. Jeff is a lovable and free spirited stoner who really just needs a bit of a push to get his life together. He is withdrawn and does tend to be a socially awkward, but you get the impression that this is because he really doesn’t venture far from the comfort of his basement dwelling. His mother makes hollow threats to kick him out if he doesn’t waltz himself to the store and pick up a tube of wood glue, but as we get to know Sharon through her day, it is doubtful she will kick the dazed stoner to the curb. His dazed existence seems to be a paradise when compared to his brother’s life, which is spent barely recognizing her. When Linda lashes out at Pat, he sulks to the nearest Hooters to sip a few drinks and ramble on about his problems to whoever will pay attention to him. At times, Pat’s life seems to be more of a mess than he perpetually baked and lost brother.
While the Duplass brothers do a fine job making us root for the dysfunctional duo, it is their journey that really hits a few snags. The first problem comes from the subplot involving their mother and her office admirer. While it is sweet enough and it is easy to see what the directors are trying to do with it, this portion of the film just seems to be slowing the entire film down almost to a crawl. I found myself drifting out of this subplot entirely and then rolling my eyes at the quirky twist that the brothers throw in when the reveal the admirer. The other problem comes at the end of the film, which finds all the characters being brought together through a traffic jam and nasty accident. To be honest, the entire finale seems like it may have been borrowed from another film and just stuck on in the final days of production. It just seems absolutely ludicrous and far fetched. In addition to these lousy plot points, I was also unmoved by Saradon’s character, who spends most of her scenes jumping out of her cubicle chair to glance around the office to spot her admirer. Saradon’s presence seems to be a total waste and you get the impression that she may be coming to the exact same conclusion.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is never a bad movie. No, in fact it can actually be quite charming and strangely comforting, yet the way the Duplass brothers balance out the emotion and the laughs is strained. It is hard to hold it against them, mostly because they are still growing as filmmakers, but you’d think the involvement of Jason Reitman (Director of Juno, Up in the Air), who is on board as a producer, would have helped considering he has tackled some serious subject matter with a crooked smirk. Unfortunately, most of the film falls right in the middle, with some scenes working better than others and some not working at all. For you comedy junkies, the film is worth your time for the stellar performances from Segel and Helms, but it certainly finds them scaled back from their usual selves, something that might turn some viewers off the film. Overall, Jeff, Who Lives at Home tries to keep itself warm, light, and accessible, but it also wants to be a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of life. Sadly, everything begins to clash, nothing gels, and the film leaves your memory the second you have walked away from it.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is available on Blu-ray and DVD.