Filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass have delved into the all-too-common discord of family life before. In “Cyrus,” the indie duo explored neurotic, vulnerable characters whose eccentricities are validated by all-encompassing truths of familiar ties. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” turns out to be exactly what its title suggests, but only on its surface. A day in the life of Jeff reveals the constant fear of fate when at odds with your family’s expectations.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
At the State
Jeff (Jason Segel, “The Muppets”) is a pothead living in his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon, “Thelma and Louise”) basement. He wanders mindlessly and ignores his mother’s order to pick up wood glue to repair the window blinders. His obsession with the film “Signs” epitomizes his role: a cosmically charged bum who thinks everything happens for a reason. His bizarre behavior leaves his mother ashamed and his married brother Pat (Ed Helms, “The Hangover Part II”) distanced.
At first, it seems that the film will consist of everyone tearing into the innocuous, unemployed Jeff — until he, ironically, appears to be the most grounded of them all.
Sharon has a miserable cubicle job that gets twisted when a secret admirer supplies her with fresh confidence. Pat fosters a dysfunctional marriage that involves not listening to his wife, courtesy of an inflated ego. And then there’s Jeff, a stoner with a destiny — or so he thinks. Mommy and brother won’t admit it, but they need Jeff more than ever, despite their outward disregard.
Alas, we have seen this story foundation recycled ad nauseam. The loser stay-at-home son was seen in “Step Brothers” and the newfound bromance genre spearheaded by Judd Apatow. It’s not entirely fresh material, but that’s OK. The Duplass brothers manage to infuse enough eccentric elements to string together a solid film.
Throughout the course of this one day, the camera lens takes a very up-close-and-personal approach. This is complemented by timely mini-zooms that accentuate every word spoken, hugely elevating the power of the script.
A series of unfortunate events, including Pat’s wife’s potential infidelity, brings the two estranged brothers closer, while their mixed-up mother is caught saying she “hates” her kids now. The audience begins to despise the negligent Sharon as she vainly preoccupies herself with ambiguous messages from someone in her office.
Candy trucks, basketball jerseys and soaring birds are few of many “signs” that Jeff detects, hoping they’ll guide him toward his destiny. He looks and sounds zany, but persistence is his best asset. The Duplass brothers ensure Jeff is simplistic in every way, which is why he’s such a powerful character.
Segel deftly embodies the benevolence and drive of such an unlikely pursuer. Helms finds long-lost sensitivity despite his asshole portrayal. Sarandon proves, once again, her motherly genius. A perfect storm of catastrophic measures integrates the three in a way so emotive, it might be the magic to restore latent love. Jeff sets out to honestly bring forth a feeling everyone yearns for: completeness. Whether that means boning supermodel after supermodel or incessantly hitting the bong in your mom’s basement, the concept is relative.
The Duplass brothers show that destiny may take some searching for, but it must be sought out, devoid of overanalyzing and over-living. Unnecessary complication is the root of our demise. The film’s title is an oxymoron, because Jeff seems to be the single figure that ventures from his conventional, homey bubble — and that’s why we love him.