Movie Reviews

March 16, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

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Cast:
Jason Segel as Jeff
Ed Helms as Pat
Susan Sarandon as Sharon
Judy Greer as Linda
Rae Dawn Chong as Carol

Review:
Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home, although that probably goes without saying. In an effort to get him to do something, anything besides smoking pot in the basement, his mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him out to get some glue in order to fix a cabinet door. Some things happen, and then Jeff comes home and fixes the cabinet.

As plot summary’s go that’s pretty vague, right up there with a man is born, lives for a while, and then dies. But then, that’s the sort of broad, existential theme the Duplass Brothers (“Cyrus”) have in mind, mixed with a hearty dose of well-timed slapstick and some extremely off-key delivery from Jason Segel and Ed Helms as his arrogant older brother.

Like a growing number of people, Jeff still lives at home despite being in his mid-30s, though in his case that has more to do with having little in the way of care or ambition. He’s too busy thinking about the meaning of the movie “Signs” and looking for similar premonitions in his everyday life. He gets just that when a wrong number looking for a man named Kevin sends him out to find said Kevin if possible.

The plot itself isn’t exactly that stream-of-consciousness all the way through as Jeff eventually falls in with his brother just as his marriage begins falling apart. Which just can’t be an accident, Jeff decides, sending him as ever deeper in search of the hidden meaning of life. A point of view which massively annoys everyone around him. Particularly his brother who is dealing with his marriage falling apart, mainly because his wife (Judy Greer) has finally discovered she has married a massive *sshole.

It’s too the Duplass’ credit that they’ve drawn their characters well enough that it’s easy to get a sense of them without ever being on the nose. Both Jeff and Pat have been decidedly affected by their father’s early death when they were children, a problem they have each glossed over in their own way and never really dealt with but which underlies everything they do. Like driving a destroyed Porsche recklessly down the freeway, or spying on Pat’s wife’s clandestine luncheon.

And it is played extremely well, particularly by Segel, with his blank faced, open mouth stare centering a makeup-less, desperate face. He encompasses the mixture of childishness and adult that is Jeff. And though Helms falls back on some of his other performances, offering little new, he also produces exactly the right mixture of disdain and concern for Jeff to make them believable. And, for what he lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in mania, providing most of “Jeff’s” best laughs.

Which, despite a few well conceived gags at the beginning, are few and far between as “Jeff’s” existentialist-comedy leans far to the existentialist side. Like Jeff’s point of view itself, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” tends to wander aimlessly for long periods of time, bouncing from Jeff’s quest for Kevin and Pat’s marital problems, to their mother’s search for a secret admirer at work, somewhat arbitrarily. The Duplass’s want to insinuate great underlying connections at work beneath all human interactions, linking everything together and making everything of consequence.

That’s a big stretch for something as light and airy as “Jeff” is, and the film though funny is not really up to its ambitions. The filmmakers really need something stronger than insinuations to make their point and instead we’re left with pretensions to depth rather than depth itself.

But what we do get is good enough. Not particularly dramatic or complex, but funny and occasionally affecting, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is mainly just a bunch of stuff that happens, but that’s the stuff life is made of.

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