Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Directed by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass
Written by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass (screenplay)
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer
Home is not a place. It is a state of mind; that feeling of comfort, security and belonging. For many, clinging to an idea of home is one of the driving forces of their day-to-day lives. In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the Duplass Brothers examine this notion with a light touch and a heavy injection of fate.
If home occupies the film’s title, destiny is its true focus. The three main characters- brothers Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms) and their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon)- are all clumsily shoved into each other with narrative push. This would be completely amateurish if it weren’t for the focus on fate at the movie’s core. The movie takes Jeff’s point of view even when he’s not there, pushing his bizarre world view into a reality that isn’t quite made for it.
For what was marketed as a quirky, R-rated comedy, Jeff, Who Lives at Home has its share of contemplation, though the filmmakers never really decide where they want to end up. It takes place in the course of a day, as Jeff and Pat bump into each other and follow Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) who is having an affair with another man. Pat is of course the polar opposite of his brother on the surface; he’s career-driven, a real “grown up.” Never mind that he impulse buys a Porsche and then zips it around drunk and crashes it into a tree.
The boys’ mother Sharon is ultimately no different. Her and Pat look down on Jeff because he has accepted his eternal infancy and surrendered to what he believes are the forces of destiny. He does this because he watched the movie Signs several times.
In their previous film, Cyrus, the mother figure was put on an extremely creepy Freudian pedestal until they decided to gloss over that with a Hollywood ending. There is glossing in this film’s ending too, though it doesn’t seem like a direct attempt to drive out the memory of anything creepy. Thanks to the marimba-driven score, all the plot points, narrative included, have an almost surreal quality to them. If the camera work were a little more fluid and less naturalistic it would have a distinct dream-like quality to it.
What we are left with is a movie that is a mess in almost every sense of the word. The humor is hit-and-miss, as are the thematic insights and much of the plot. The Duplass’ would’ve had a better movie if they’d spent more time on Sharon, and not just because Sarandon is the best performer in the movie.
Sharon’s story of trying to find out who her secret office admirer is touches on all the main points of the movie without overtly spelling them out, and her resolution is one of the truly touching things about the movie. The Duplass’ have made admirable strides by creating a female character that is, in some ways at least, allowed to exist for reasons other than men.
Pat’s wife Linda may be the stereotypical fun-sucking girlfriend, but Pat is no cake walk either. Sharon and Jeff are the most sympathetic characters, the latter mostly because of his blissful ignorance. Like last year’s Our Idiot Brother, the man-child that is often a side character has been placed front and center to teach us all a lesson. The fate Jeff leans on and pushes so heavily is ultimately that of most movies: you will run into people right when the action starts, and you will intervene.