Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the latest film from Jay and Mark Duplass; two filmmakers known primarily for their independent work. Their widest reached work is probably Cyrus. They’re mostly unknown to the mainstream audiences, but I think that’s all going to change. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a film that gets you interested because of its comedy, but keeps you invested because of its connecting story that makes every single event in the film happen for a reason, a greater purpose. It hangs on the whole idea of destiny and it progressively changes every main character in the film, leaving you with an impressive film that works off of such a basic concept, expanding it into a performance driven dramedy.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is a grown man that still lives at home with his mother Sharon (Susan Surandon). He’s a big believer of destiny and how everything in this world happens for a reason. He’s also a pot smoker. His father passed away some time ago and ever since that day he’s been determined to find the reason behind it. Everything in this universe is connected in Jeff’s eyes and he uses the simple error of someone calling the wrong number as a drive for a self-discovering journey.
His brother Pat (Ed Helms) doesn’t think that way. He’s more old-fashion, with the beliefs of having a job and getting married. His wife Linda (Judy Greer) displays unhappiness, but instead of dealing with it, Pat tries his best to hide it and mask any troubles with a brand new car. Life isn’t as peaceful for him as it is for his brother, so he continues to live in a vegetative state of depression.
Their mother Sharon isn’t as bad as Pat, but she too is drifting through life. She’s obviously sad and lonely because of her husband passing, but she’s trying her best to hold onto what she’s got (her two boys). Still, she feels a void missing in her life; an adventurous spark that’s burnt out, and she wants to get it back, she just doesn’t know how.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a character driven film and directors Jay and Mark Duplass understand how to make that work. They flesh out each and every character, providing enough detail and uniqueness to differentiate each character from the other, while leaving in the family factor that helps tie them together. They also bounce around the idea of destiny and connectivity very well. The film doesn’t feel too preachy or weird in how it tackles the idea; it actually goes about it in a very realistic way.
Jeff is the only one that believes in the concept and he’s constantly reminded of how dumb it sounds by his brother, mom and random strangers on the street. Still, the film moves on and structures itself around the idea, without making it feel like it’s the only drive of the film. There’s a situation that Jeff and his brother Pat stumble into and it brings together the two brothers for a life-altering day.
The two run into each other by coincidence (or is it?) and soon they discover Pat’s wife with another man. As they follow her, they encounter certain acts that can only be described as destiny. It starts out with little things like Jeff breaking off and following someone else, only to be led back to his brother Pat, but then it escalates and brings in life or death situations. It’s clever in how it does it because it never tries to force the buildup or come off as a big twist of events. At the end of the film you’ll probably be impressed at how the Duplass Brothers manage to piece it all together fluidly and keep the film structured, but you won’t be awarding them points for keeping you guessing.
There’s a general direction that you know the film is heading in, but that’s okay, because the film never tries to ride on that direction. It instead focuses on its characters and their flawed relationships with each other. Redemption and purpose are key factors and Jeff, Who Lives at Home focuses on both. Pat and Jeff slowly blossom into the people they’re truly meant to be and it goes about it in a very honest and sincere manner.
Jason Segel and Ed Helms are the two main contributing factors to the films overall success. Both men provide two opposite roles with the same loving drive. Jeff is more openly caring and loving of his family and friends, while Pat buries it down inside. Segel provides his usual laughs that come from lines that feel improvised and it keeps the film funny, while slowly steering it into the more serious direction.
Segel has no problem getting serious when the film calls for it. He’s still his funny self, but he’s also much more understanding and aware of his surroundings. It’s easily his most serious role yet and I think he totally nails it.
Helms is equally impressive. I’m just going to say it, but I don’t usually like his work. His comedy never works for me, but this film is proof that he’s a good actor when given the right material. His own brand of comedy is present, but it’s much more toned down compared to his usual roles. His ability to provide a dramatic performance is almost better than Segel’s. His character is dealing with the most present pain and he does a good job keeping it bottled up when it needs to be and letting it out when the time calls for it.
The only real off-setting character and story comes from Susan Sarandon. She does fine with the material; her character is mostly nagging, but charms up as the film wraps up. The problem with it is that the whole character and story feels oddly placed. Jeff, Who Lives at Home would work much better focused on the two brothers and their relationship, yet the mom is almost forced into the equation. Her early scenes are far too brief to be remembered, making her ending appearance lacking impact. It’s not bad, but the film would have felt much tighter without it.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is still a surprising dramedy that plays more like Magnolia than Cyrus. It doesn’t feel like a usual Duplass film (aside from the extreme zoom in/zoom out camera technique), which is a good thing. Their films tend to have pacing problems, which isn’t saying their work is bad, it just feels like most of their movies can chop 20 or 30 minutes off the running time without losing anything important. Jeff, Who Lives at Home works well as a comedy, but it works even better as a drama. It’s something that you’ll want to at least watch for Segel and Helms’ performances. They show their ability to take on dramatic roles, while mixing in their trademark humor.
I like how the film ties it all together and I can agree with those that say it’s predictable, but that didn’t bother me one bit. Its characters are good enough to keep you invested and wanting to watch more of them on the screen. The story’s roots about destiny and what to make of life is only the icing on the cake. Seriously, don’t watch this film because of its trailer; watch it because of its cast. It’s a tough sell because it’s about so much more than an adult who’s lazy and lives at home with his mom.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home – 9.5/10