[Review] – Jeff, Who Lives At Home

11 Apr

Title: Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Year: 2012
Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong
MPAA Rating: R, language including sexual references and some drug use
Runtime: 83 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Metacritic: 60

By now you may be somewhat familiar with the mumblecore filmmaking movement. Coined about a decade ago, the term is used to describe independent films with a very much DIY filmmaking style with low budget and production values, and a film that’s driven more by characters than by plot points, and one that counts with a very naturalistic approach to both performances and dialogue, which is many times heavily improvised by the cast. Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass are a big part of the movement, with their first feature, The Puffy Chair, being one of the first movies to come out of it, and their follow-up to that one, Baghead, continuing to fall in line with that overall aesthetic.

Then in 2010 the brothers gave us Cyrus, which I really liked and ended up giving an A- to, ranking it as my 27th favorite film of that year. On Cyrus they worked with much bigger names than what they’re used to (many mumblecore films employ unknown or amateur actors), as it had them directing Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener, and with them they managed to craft a film that successfully married their mumblecore roots with a more mainstream sort of approach, which I thought was a nice step forward for them.

Now they’re back with their latest, entitled Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and once again the brothers are moving a bit further into a more mainstream sort of film, and once again they’re managing to do that while still maintaining their indie mumblecore cred, without having to compromise their quirky sort of style that got them to where they are in the first place. And that’s terrific, because this is another triumphant film from them; and after Friends with Kids, 21 Jump Street and The Kid with a Bike, it’s now the fourth great film I’ve seen in a row.

It’s not without it’s flaws, of course, but at the end of the day Jeff, Who Lives at Home manages to be both funny and pretty damn touching at the same time, too. And, much like Cyrus, it works as well as it does because of these well-known actors brining so much to their respective roles. Jason Segel is very good as the titular Jeff, a thirty-year-old grown man who fully believes in fate and that destiny has a path chosen out for him, but that nevertheless still lives in his mom’s basement where he smokes weed and watches M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs over and over again, thinking some of the clues pertaining to his fate might be there.

Susan Sarandon plays Sharon, the mother to both Jeff and Ed Helms‘ Pat, and she, unlike Jeff, does have a job at an office where she keeps a framed photograph of not her sons, but just a generic waterfall. And she, approaching a birthday and all, asks the son who still lives with her to help her out by doing one simple chore. That chore, buying wood glue to fix a shutter, sets into motion the day during which the whole film transpires, but instead of just sticking to that task, Jeff, a believer of coincidences, seems to believe he must spend his day figuring out codes and signs he believes the universe is throwing at him, including finding a “Kevin”.

Ed Helms is also very, very good as Pat. He’s the brother that has the job and the wife, but his marriage is a very unhappy one (his wife, Linda, is played by the terrific Judy Greer), and just by showing him buying a Porsche he can’t really afford the Duplass brothers make a point of showing this is a guy in the middle of some kind of crisis. Before you know it Pat and Jeff are reconnecting as they conduct surveillance on Linda. And it’s all full of such whimsy and dry humor that it’s hard not to fall over Jeff, Who Lives at Home; just like it’s hard not to fall for Jeff as a character, when you least expect it you’ll realize that this slacker of a guy has grown on you quite a lot, and given you some really emotionally rich moments to ponder.

It’s true that the final act of the film are a bit too melodramatic, that’s when the brothers veer most towards typical Hollywood stylings, when all the coincidences and signs Jeff has been looking out for start showing their effect, but even that final event really did work for me. And if it didn’t work for you, then that’s good too, this film has its flaws, but you should be more than forgiving for all the great things it gives to you, for the brilliant performances, for the Duplass brothers staying true to themselves while trying something very new, for it all still feeling rather improvised even though it’s obviously not, for those quick zooms that are such a part of their aesthetic (though how they employ that technique has its detractors, too). Yes, that ending may be a bit too manufactured and inspirational, it fits into this film as a whole, and its validated by everything that came before it.

The Duplass brothers are truly a unique and refreshing voice in the cinematic world. They create characters who march to the beat of their own, very offbeat, drum. They create films with very thin plots, that’s true, but that’s where their magic is, they don’t need a lot of hullabaloo to touch upon big themes, they just need a great cast able to show it to you, able to create some wonderfully funny and often awkward moments out of their seemingly improvised dialogue, able to give us moments of undeniable emotional power. They got that with the cast they aligned for Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and though this isn’t a masterful or perfect film by any measure, it’s the one with which they show that, while they are now playing Hollywood’s game, they’re still doing it on their own terms.

Grade: A-

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