Review: Jeff Who Lives At Home
(originally reviewed in September 2011 during Toronto Film Festival)
PLOT: Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty-year old slacker who's waiting for the day destiny will pluck him from his mother's (Susan Sarandon) basement. On his mom's birthday, he's sent to Home Depot to buy some glue, but through what he thinks is divine intervention, ends up spending the day with his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who's following around his wife (Judy Greer) who may be cheating on him.
REVIEW: I pretty much knew I was going to dig JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME right from the first scene, where Jeff sits on the toilet, and waxes poetically into a tape-recorder about his undying love for the movie SIGNS. I tend to like the Duplass Brothers, who wrote and directed, so I guess this wasn't a hard sell.
At first glance, JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME seems like a bit of a minor film, with it running a scant eighty-minutes, and taking course over a single day. Heck, for ninety-percent of the movie it was a minor work, and while I liked it, it still felt like a bit of a disappointment on the heels of CYRUS, which was one of my favorite films from last year.
The film works mostly due to Jason Segel, who's affecting as the eternally optimistic Jeff. In another actor's hands, Jeff could have been insufferable- but Segel brings a sweetness to the part that meshes well with the Duplass Brother's big-hearted, humanist philosophy.
Like CYRUS, this owes a lot to the Duplass Bros., mumblecore origins, with it seemingly shot on lower-grade digital, possibly hand-held cameras, just like CYRUS. Some of the dialogue also seems to be improvised, with the exchanges between Segel and Ed Helms (who seems to be playing Andy Bernard with a goatee here- no complaints) having a natural, unscripted feel. The film also has a very nice score by Michael Andrews, heavily reminiscent of his excellent soundtrack for Miranda July's ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (the release of which remains the last time I bought a physical CD).
In terms of laughs, yeah- JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME is funny, but in a genteel sort of way. You'll never double over in laughter, but the whole thing feels pleasant, and at eighty minutes, goes down pretty smooth.
Now, I said that for ninety-percent of the running time, this felt minor. The last twenty minutes or so throw the audience a bit of a curve-ball, with Jeff's idea of destiny having a surprisingly dramatic payoff, that pushed the film into territory I wasn't expecting. However, this switch isn't jarring, and works to the film's advantage, give it a uniqueness I wasn't anticipating.
There's also an interesting subplot involving Jeff and Pat's mom, played by Susan Sarandon, as she interacts with an office co-worker (Rae Dawn Chong of COMMANDO!!!), and deals with a secret admirer, which pays off in a fun, heart-warming way that, again, makes the film a little different- but in a good way.
All told, JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME isn't quite as good as CYRUS, but it's a unique, pleasant comedy that once again proves that the Duplass Brothers., might be on to something with the way their films seem to simultaneously aim at the heart AND the funny bone.