Jeff, Who Lives At Home
The brothers Duplass, Jay and Mark, are the running stalwarts of mumblecore and celebrated kings of slackerdom. Their movies exhibit just the right amount of quirk and absurdity, but still remain honest enough to be recognized as real-life situations. There’s a sort of modern existentialism replete with indie spirit, ironic humor and a cute, xylophonic soundtrack. Like the characters in other Duplass movies, notably Cyrus, those in Jeff, Who Lives at Home are without pretention and painfully human. The messes they get themselves into, their desires and worries, are all too familiar.
Man-child Jeff (Jason Segal) is a track-pants clad, bong-ripping philosopher who’d rather deliver soliloquies about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs from atop the toilet, than leave the basement of his mother’s Baton Rouge home. Jeff believes that everything and everyone is connected, that the universe has a plan for us all – standard stoner fare. So when he receives a wrong number call for “Kevin,” it’s a sign from the cosmos, and a simple errand for his mother – to buy wood glue for a broken slat – turns into a quest for “the meaning of it all” that serendipitously leads Jeff towards a chance encounter with his brother, Pat (Ed Helms).
Pat is relatively more mature than Jeff, insofar as he has a wife (Judy Greer), a job at paint shop and sports a decidedly grown-up goatee. But when, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, he purchases a Porsche without telling his wife, he casts his already stultified marriage further onto the rocks. Together with his brother, Pat tails his perhaps adulterous wife around town. In an awkward series of events culminating in a traffic jam, all the characters are miraculously and conveniently reunited, and Jeff’s assertions about destiny are confirmed.
Running parallel the brothers’ slacker odyssey is a small, office-place melodrama involving their mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), and her secret admirer. Although Sarandon gives a convincing performance as the frustrated but loving mother, and is a good embodiment for the “human condition” that so permeates off of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, her character is hardly given any room to grow beyond filler. This problem – that each of the characters tend to fall into their respective familial niches – is symptomatic of the brief time we spend with them. There’s plenty of character to be developed in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, but the Duplass brothers seem more interested in plot points.
Clocking in at a tidy 83 minutes, the film feels a little bit precious, and the script, opened up for improvisation, is predictable and doesn’t offer any especially memorable moments. Couple the blustery dialogue about life and family with handheld zoom cuts that are meant to appear candid but that come off as unsure and out of place, and you get quite a saccharine film. But that isn’t to say that Jeff, Who Lives at Home won’t impress you with its earnest heart and re-affirming message. If only we were given more time with the characters, to see them develop and change. Instead Jeff, Who Lives at Home proffers an expected slice-of-life story. Off-beat, for sure, but still rather pedestrian.