3/17/2012

Just Stay Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
(USA, 83 min.)
Written and directed by Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong.
Meet Jeff. He is thirty, single, and unemployed. Jeff also lives at home. (Title drop!) He’s a real catch… for a contestant on Baggage. Luckily, though, Jeff is a quiet and introspective man. The film informs the audience so by opening with a visionary title card that offers a prophetic message from Jeff, who tells the audience to look for signs that will reveal their purpose in life. Audiences be warned: this is a sign.

The philosophical musings continue as the shot cuts to Jeff, aptly played by Jason Segel (The Muppets), who seems both comfortable and destined to play hapless losers for the rest of his career. Jeff’s latest diatribe concerns the film Signs – another sign (re: Shyamalan) – and he orates into a handheld recorder the deep thoughts produced by his fourth viewing of the film. One finds more intelligence in a tray of deep fried pickles, but Jeff seems content with his contemplation, which is aptly signalled by a cut to a longer shot that reveals Jeff finishing a nice healthy shit. Sign the third.

Jeff seems desolate. He cannot find his purpose in life, even though he restricts his search to his mother’s wood-panelled basement and the end of his bong. His mom, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), calls him with a simple birthday wish: that he leave the house, take the bus to Home Depot, and buy her some glue.
Meanwhile, Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms), is not faring much better. Clearly in the midst of a midlife crisis, Pat informs his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), that he bought himself a Porsche Boxster. They can’t afford it, Linda protests, but Pat is deaf to her feelings. When it comes to relationships and life decisions, Pat and Jeff are the same.

Sharon, however, is doing somewhat better in her life. Still single after fifteen-odd years of widowhood (which might have been preceded by a troubled marriage), Sharon gets a welcome b-day gift when a paper airplane sails into her office. It’s a rose, hand drawn and delivered by airmail. Sharon has a secret admirer, she confesses to her friend, Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) during her lunch break. On Carol’s warm advice, Sharon flirts back.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home makes ample headway in terms of uplifting comedy, despite the shaky start and ominous signs of tired Indiewood conventions. (Although the plinky xylophone-ish score makes Jeff guilty as charged.) By stringing together a series of situations that show how people grow through fate, happenstance, and chance, Jeff gives much to ponder. The Duplass brothers also provide some hilariously perverted family dynamics, although they're not quite on par with the Jonah Hill/Marisa Tomei/John C. Reilly deal of Cyrus. The ensemble is rather good, though, and makes the familiar story seem fresh. Greer has some particular fine scenes as the beleaguered Linda, who seems like an inversion of Greer’s character Julie in The Descendants. Sarandon also gives some nice work as Sharon, especially in a freeing sprinkler scene that is as lovely as her tap dance in Elizabethtown.
Some of the eclectic efforts, though, are a bit of a misfire. The cinematography offers an endless loop of unnecessary zoom in/zoom outs. The camerawork is almost as annoying as Jeff’s interludes as a false prophet are, relying on “signs” and offbeat eccentricities to help Pat in their quest to grow up. It all feels a bit too preachy, and it’s never clear what this six-foot Yoda is trying to say. Jeff, Who Lives at Home sadly unravels in its final act, too, digressing into coy philosophy and opportune character resolution. Both fit in with the rest of the film, although the final turn of events is simply too convoluted and convenient to accept. The conclusion is too neat a bridge to mend the messy lives of Jeff and company.

Often provoking and frequently funny, there’s much in Jeff, Who Lives at Home to merit a recommendation for a night out. The tiresome philosophy and disastrous ending, however, might also leave one with the feeling that the night might best have been spent at home away from this preachy misfire. How ironic.

Rating: ½ (out of ★★★★★)

 Jeff, Who Lives at Home is currently playing in Ottawa at the Empire 7

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