Monday, April 2, 2012

Movie Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home ***
Directed by: Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass.
Written by: Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass.
Starring: Jason Segel (Jeff), Ed Helms (Pat), Susan Sarandon (Sharon), Judy Greer (Linda), Rae Dawn Chong (Carol), Steve Zissis (Steve), Evan Ross (Kevin).

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is such a pleasant experience that you don’t really mind that the film meanders aimlessly for most of its running time before coming up with an ending from left field that really shouldn’t work, but somehow does. The performances by everyone in the cast are excellent so even when you realize the movie isn’t going anywhere, you just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Jeff (Jason Segel) is 30, and still lives in his mother’s basement – getting high, and watching M. Night Shyamalan`s Signs over and over, seeing beauty in the seemingly random events that happen throughout the movie that all lead to a perfect moment when everything comes together. Jeff spends his life looking for such signs – in his world, there are no such things as coincidence – not even a wrong number where someone asks for Kevin, although no Kevin lives there.

Jeff`s brother is Pat (Ed Helms), who is married, has a job and does not live at home. But he isn’t in much better shape than Jeff is. His wife Linda (Judy Greer) is sick and tired of him – and even though they live in a rundown apartment, and are saving for a house, he thinks the way to fix their relationship is to go out and buy a Porsche. He runs into Jeff one day, seemingly at random, and then the two of them see Linda out with another man. Is she cheating on him? The brothers, who don’t much like each other, decide to follow her and find out.

Then there is their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon), single since her husband died almost 20 years ago, who is tired of Jeff living at home, and doesn’t much like Pat either. It’s her birthday, and all she wants is Jeff to fix a shutter. But then a paper airplane lands on her desk at work – with a drawing of a flower on it – and she starts receiving IMs from a so called secret admirer in the office. Her best friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) thinks she should embrace this new opportunity – it’s time to move on with her life.

Written and directed by the Duplass brothers, who have moved from mumblecore to more mainstream in their last two films (their previous film was their comedic, awkward gem Cyrus). In this film, like Cyrus, they seem to specialize in painting themselves into a corner, and then trying to find their way out of it. In Cyrus, you have a situation where it seems like neither John C. Reilly or Marisa Tomei are want to give up on their new found relationship, and Tomeis son, Jonah Hill, isn’t going to give up on trying to break them up. In that film though, they got themselves out of it logically. In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, they need to pull an ending out of left field – and unlike in the better films of Jeff`s hero M. Night Shyamalan (like Signs) when it comes out, it doesn’t make everything snap into place. Although it does allow the brothers to give these characters the happy ending that the audience wants them to have.

No, I didn’t buy the ending, but it doesn’t really matter – I liked it anyway. The key to it working is that we want these characters to have a happy ending. As damaged as they are, we cannot help but like them. Jeff may be aimless, more than a little kooky and still not over his father’s death way back in 1995, but he’s also a likable, sweet, trusting guy. You understand why Sharon has never kicked him out – you can imagine numerous conversations that they have had in the past, where Jeff would just have to give her one of Jason Segel`s patented hangdog expression, and all is forgiven. Ed Helms Pat is at first less likable – more vain and egocentric. He seems to believe he deserves the good things in life – like his new Porsche – and even if he cannot afford them, damn it, he’s going to have them. You understand why Judy Greer’s Linda is fed up with him, even though she still does love him for some reason. But as his world comes crashing down around him, you start to see the realization of his mistakes dawn on him and he tries to correct them. And then there is Susan Sarandon’s Sharon, who for most of the movie has her own plot going on in her own office. Like her sons, she has been lost since her husband died, and now because of the secret admirer, she is slowly coming out of herself exposed exile. Its yet another reminder of how good Sarandon can be.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is not quite as satisfying as Cyrus was – even if it undeniably the work of the same filmmakers. The Duplass brothers have a gift for the awkwardly funny, and while Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn’t quite walk the high wire that Cyrus did as brilliantly, it has its moments. I do think they need to settle down a little behind the camera – the film contains numerous awkward zooms – and double zooms for that matter – that call too much attention to themselves. With this cast, playing these likable characters, you don’t really need anything else.

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