Mark Reviews Movies

Jeff, Who Lives at Home


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Evan Ross

MPAA Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:23

Release Date: 3/16/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 15, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is one of those rare films that is too short for its own good. Entrenched in the lives of a quartet of characters who come across as fully formed human beings in a series of events that are wholly natural yet delightfully whimsical for a scant 80 minutes, we can only wonder what more they could offer.

The center of the film is two brothers—complete opposites. One is a perennial slacker, who lives at home with his mother and spends his day recording his thoughts on the interconnectedness of the universe. Did he get such a philosophy from religion? Did he obtain it from some personal experience? No, he came to believe it from watching Signs a few too many times—more than likely while stoned.

The man is Jeff (Jason Segel), who treats us to his deepest thoughts on the film in an opening monologue that also assures us that he believes his own life is leading up to such a climactic event as the one in the movie that will define his purpose in life. That he's philosophizing while sitting on the toilet is one of his many, endearing quirks. This is a man—more like a child, really—who takes the words of the host of an infomerical to heart. Pick up the phone, the man on the television says, and, just at that moment, the phone rings. It's a misdialed number; the man on the other end is looking for Kevin. Jeff then tries finding anagrams for the name that might help him in his quest for enlightenment.

This is "busy" for Jeff. His mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) calls home from work to remind her son that it's her birthday and that the one and only gift she wants from Jeff is for him to fix a broken shutter on the closet door. She's left some money on the table for him to buy wood glue and even writes down the correct number bus for him to take to get to the hardware store.

Meanwhile, Sharon has her mystery to solve in the forms of a paper airplane made out of a sketch of a flower and some instant messages on her work computer from a "secret admirer." Writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass don't have much for Sharon to do. Her story, as she tries to uncover the identity of her clandestine crush while confiding in her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) about her lack of romance since her husband's death and the plans of her past that never came to pass, is entirely separate from her sons. As sweet as her throughline turns out to be (Those conversations with Carol are genuinely honest—regretful and scared of having lost the best years already), the breaks from Jeff and his brother's coincidence-filled mission put the brakes on the pacing a bit too much.

Jeff's brother, by the way, is Pat (Ed Helms), a man who thinks he knows everything he wants from life; right now, that's a sports car. There's a certain irony to the first scene with his neglected wife Linda (Judy Greer). In it, he has made her breakfast with the ulterior motive of gradually weaning her toward the fact that he's already bought his dream car and that it's parked outside their small townhouse. She wants a real house, where the two of them can start a real family together, like she's always dreamed. This purchase will surely set them back for a while.

Anyway, in the scene, Pat tells Linda that he's only made breakfast as a loving gesture. "A relationship is like a flower," he says, that needs water; "Consider this a sprinkling." The irony, of course, is that he knows and states exactly what he needs to do to save his marriage but only uses it as a ploy. Pat is adept at attempting such schemes, but they have the tendency to backfire.

The long scheme here arrives when, after a series of chance encounters that Jeff, of course, sees as the universe setting him on the right track with his destiny (a kid named Kevin (Evan Ross) on the bus, a naďve meeting with the kid that leads him to wander the streets, and that walk putting him in the path of his brother), Pat and Jeff notice Linda in her car with another man (Steve Zissis). Pat is determined to confront his wife about what he assumes is an affair, and Jeff tries to help in his own, unique way.

In between the clues that Jeff sees, the Duplasses give the characters time to vent their personal frustrations with each other as they attempt to figure out the respective messes that are their lives. There's a fight between the brothers at their father's grave that succinctly sums up the tension between them, and it's juxtaposed later with a quiet scene of the two sitting in a hotel tub in which Pat has no choice but to listen to Jeff. The inevitable confrontation between Pat and Linda is equally effective, as Linda gives her husband a choice as to why he's angry about the situation; Pat simply doesn't have the ability to see it from her side.

Then there's Jeff, who comes to the realization that perhaps his destiny isn't all its cracked up to be until a final, unexpected tangent appears just as everything is in the process of being resolved. It's at this point that the full effect of Jeff, Who Lives at Home comes into focus. It's not so much about what happens but that we're so invested in what could happen to the characters and what their actions in the heat of the moment say about them.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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