REVIEW: Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2012]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 83 minutes | Release Date: March 16th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Director(s): Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass
Writer(s): Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass

“The Porsche is normal size. You’re a Sasquatch.”

It’s good to see Mark Duplass hasn’t stopped making small-scale, heartfelt indies with his brother Jay despite success on the acting front with the likes of “The League” and Safety Not Guaranteed. While I’m not sure you could still call them mumblecore with increasingly prominent casts—although their second film of 2012, The Do-Deca Pentathlon might—they haven’t lost the quirkily authentic appeal that originally endeared the duo to audiences. Jeff, Who Lives at Home contains some questionable choices with constant zoom pulls recalling an episode of “The Office’s” faux documentary style and the necessity of a secondary, parallel plot concerning Susan Sarandon, but the central conceit of her sons Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms) fatefully converging is a treat.

I’d be remiss not mentioning a striking similarity to David Milch‘s defunct HBO series “John From Cincinnati”. Both revolve around an enigmatically eccentric character finding ways to unwittingly bring those he comes into contact with together through a series of coincidences and leaps of faith. Jeff doesn’t get bogged down in Jesus allusion like John, however, instead utilizing his chill, existentialist demeanor to lead him to places a more practically-minded person like Pat wouldn’t. He spends his days smoking weed and trying to understand a world he’s detached himself from after the death of his father. Still living in his mother’s basement, the drive to be more has all but disappeared. Only her demand for a fixed window shutter on her birthday inspires him to see the sun.

In great “everything happens for a reason” fashion, this quest for wood glue provides the impetus for twists and turns that will indelibly alter this familial trio’s lives. After watching Signs for the umpteenth time, Jeff has become entranced by the concept of finding intense meaning in throwaway minutiae. This mindset transforms a rude caller’s wrong numbered desire to talk to a ‘Kevin’ into a mission with the potential to achieve clarity. Jeff follows a young basketball player with the name on his jersey (Evan Ross) and eventually hops a ride on a Kevin’s Kandy truck—each choice to follow his gut converging on a chance encounter with Pat. Jeff may be lost and depressed, but it’s his brother who’s about to implode and in desperate need of assistance.

And with that comes a sweetly told tale of redemption in the face of what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. Jeff yearns to fit in—so utterly alone and cognizant the only two people left in his life will never comprehend his angst. Pat wants to be the person he dreamed of becoming but never could, risking his marriage to Linda (Judy Greer) to satisfy far-flung desires of self-importance. Sharon (Sarandon) covets the ability to connect with someone new now that both sons have all but shut her out, some secretive, flirtatious messages at work giving her hope it’s still possible. These goals can be met if they’re willing to face the devastating threat of failure, life’s knack for coincidence allowing them to assist each other to those ends.

In all honesty, the path Jeff and Pat take does have some highly contrived detours along the way. You can either take them at face value or allow the universe’s magic to grab hold. A climactic scene amidst a traffic jam on a bridge falls prey to cliché and yet remains completely believable as a result of the finer details of humility and compassion for our fellow man Jeff has tried his whole life to never forget. We can infer through the tragic events transpiring alongside their relinquishing of selfish desires for sympathetic compromise that the death of the family’s patriarch was one that hit each hard in unique ways. That loss may even be what allows them the opportunity to crawl back from the edge of self-destruction.

Theirs is a serendipitous clash of disparate personalities that must overlap to reinvigorate a long-dormant love. So intrinsically the backbone to the film, though, every time we leave them to focus on Sharon is a wrench into an otherwise smooth flow. Don’t get me wrong, Sarandon’s expressive roller coaster proves a worthwhile aside connecting back with her sons to bring everything full circle. Unfortunately her search for companionship is just too far removed from the main plot. It’s a great performance with some wonderful humor alongside Rae Dawn Chong‘s friend Carol, but I can’t help wondering if we could have gone without. You need her birthday as a backdrop and the wooden shutter as a catalyst, but perhaps it could have been left at that.

There is enough from Helms and especially Segel to fill the already paltry 83-minute runtime with a wealth of emotional turmoil. Both play marginally against type with the former going all-in on the dickhead side of the spectrum while his normally doofy demeanor floats beneath the surface and the latter delving deep into self-reflection and empathy. Segel shines in a role that begs comparison to John C. Reilly‘s poignant turn in the Duplasses’ Cyrus—introverted, awkward, and absolutely loveable. He is set on a quest for answers, ultimately helping his brother reconcile his issues before finding them. There is more than meets the eye to Jeff and while he’s always known this to be true, it’s taken until today to learn how to set his love free.

[1] Photo credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Left to right: Jason Segel plays Jeff and Ed Helms plays Pat in JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, from Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Photo credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Susan Sarandon plays Sharon in JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, from Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Photo credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Judy Greer plays Linda in JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, from Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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