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Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Posted by martinteller on February 19, 2014

Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home.  More specifically, he is an unemployed 30-year-old who lives in the basement of the house of his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon).  Jeff smokes a lot of weed and believes strongly in “signs” (and molds much of his philosophy on the Shyamalan movie of the same name).  He’s just received a wrong number phone call asking for “Kevin” and takes it as a sort of prophecy.  Sharon asks him to run an errand, but Jeff gets sidetracked in his quest for the meaning of Kevin.  Meanwhile, Jeff’s older brother Pat (Ed Helms) is experiencing marital difficulties with his wife Linda (Judy Greer)… and at the same time, Sharon is getting mysterious “secret admirer” messages at work.  Is the ultimate convergence of these storylines mere coincidence, or an event of cosmic destiny?

This film (which could also be called “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, yuk yuk) is my first by the Duplass brothers.  Although I’ve enjoyed Mark Duplass’s role on the fantasy football sitcom “The League” (whose Katie Aselton also has a minor role here) and his film acting, up until now I haven’t watched any of his directorial work with his sibling Jay.  Because their film The Puffy Chair is considered one of the key “mumblecore” works, and my experiences with mumblecore have been less than satisfying, I kind of avoided them.  Fortunately, this movie isn’t mumblecore at all.  It’s an offbeat — but not gratingly quirky — comedy/drama in the indie vein.  It has an easygoing vibe to it, like the film isn’t trying to cram some sort of worldview down your throat.  While I didn’t especially love anything about it, I didn’t hate anything about it either.  The highs and lows were both mild, but on the whole I think the highs win the day.

On the downside, Pat is way too much of an asshole to start with.  He’s played as cartoonishly douchey, which provides amusement but makes it harder to accept him as a more sympathetic and nuanced character later in the film.  I felt like I needed to see at least one redeeming quality up front, or maybe some hint of what his marriage used to be.  Of the three main characters, I was by far the least invested in him.  I also found the use of seemingly random zooms to be distracting and unnecessary.  It reminded me of the phony “you are there” action camerawork in the recent “Battlestar Galactica” series, but done to even less effect.  It was puzzling.

On the upside, my favorite moments involved Sarandon and especially her interactions with co-worker Rae Dawn Chong.  I haven’t seen Chong in anything since the 80’s and I was surprised at what an interesting actress she’s matured into, really a very compelling presence.  She was the highlight of the movie for me.  I’ll have to look through her recent filmography and see if she’s done anything else of interest.  I also really enjoyed the film’s sense of humor, with some funny lines (“I’m gigantic!”) and fresh takes on familiar scenarios.  I also must admit the sweetness of the movie, particularly its ending, was quite nicely pulled off.  And it takes a horribly worn-out cliché — the “close your eyes, spread out your arms, and lift your face to the rain” moment — and gives it what is probably the best take I’ve ever seen on it.

I’m glad my girlfriend had this in her Netflix queue, otherwise I probably would have passed it over.  I quite enjoyed it, and maybe I’ll even give The Puffy Chair a chance.  Rating: Good (73)


2 Responses to “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”

  1. Dan Heaton said

    I also caught up with this movie a few years ago and enjoyed it. It’s pretty light and doesn’t stick with you that much, but that isn’t really a criticism. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Puffy Chair, but I’d recommend checking out Cyrus from them.

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