In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass introduce an unemployed 30-year-old (played by The Muppets’ Jason Segel) who still lives in his mother’s basement. Sensitive and naïve, Jeff is prone to bouts of philosophizing, but doesn’t embrace either Sarte or Nietzsche. A neo-philosopher for the millennial generation, he instead discovers the answers to life’s questions in repeated viewings of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.
After fatefully answering a wrong-number phone call from a man who insists on speaking to “Kevin,” Jeff leaves the house mindful of the menial errand given to him by his exasperated mother (Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon), but also aware that someone named Kevin could be the key to unlocking his destiny.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a small, character-driven film that focuses on the mundane foibles of human relationships. It treads familiar territory for the Duplass brothers, who have crafted a darkly funny script and assembled a terrific cast. Segel, in particular, shines as the loveable loser following his destiny no matter where it leads and no matter how many times it attempts to kick in his teeth. In Segel’s deft hands, Jeff exists in a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice — he’s like the human version of Winnie-the-Pooh, if Pooh lived in his mother’s basement and smoke an inordinate amount of weed.
As Jeff’s unlikable, estranged older brother Pat, Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover) brings an abundance of arrogant bluster and humor to the role. We meet Pat moments after he has surprised his wife Linda (the always-delightful Judy Greer of The Descendants) with a waffle breakfast designed to soften her up for the announcement that he’s blown their savings on a Porsche. And things only go downhill from there. Whether Pat is attempting to bribe a hotel concierge with $20 or holding a business lunch at Hooter’s, Helms manages to experience the character’s insecurity and fear in a way that makes you almost feel guilty for laughing.
Sarandon anchors the film as the brothers’ frustrated mother Sharon. Believing the best part of her life is over, and deeply concerned by her youngest son’s lack of ambition, Sarandon provides some of the film’s most poignant scenes opposite her cubicle mate Carol (Commando‘s Rae Dawn Chong).
Those with a low threshold for whimsy and documentary-style crash zooms are warned to steer clear of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which shamelessly puts the whim in whimsical. Make no mistake, the majority of the time the filmmakers straddle the fanciful line like expert tightrope walkers, but some saccharine plot contrivances are too much. Like the moment when the estranged brothers are forced to walk after Pat’s car is towed, and they somehow end up at the grave of their deceased father for a conversation manufactured to pull heartstrings. Far more effective are the fantastical moments firmly rooted in the absurdly banal, like the brown Kevin Kandy delivery truck that appears like a magical taxi to shuttle Jeff from one important plot point to another.
A bit on the slight side, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is nevertheless an entertaining comedy that’s elevated by the shared vision of its directors and the contributions of its cast.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens today nationwide.
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