Monday Movies Was Meant to Have a Business Meeting. With Destiny.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the fourth feature outing of Jay and Mark Duplass. Their first, The Puffy Chair, helped define the “mumblecore” genre, along with the early work of Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski. Their second, Baghead, a mumblecore-horror hybrid with a metacommentary on filmmaking, indicated a lively impatience with their creation, demonstrating a consistency that showed they knew their strengths in addition to an openness to teaching themselves new tricks. After that they made Cyrus, about which I know little other than that it starred Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, and while indie was not quite a micro-budget film. (Of those, I saw only Baghead, which I liked a lot.)
Jeff is in that indie-not-micro register. It also suggests, a la Baghead, that the Duplass brothers believe their brand of practical magic has the ability to subsume other disciplines. In Baghead it was horror. In Jeff it’s… very nearly everything, a kind of cast-of-thousands old-school spectacular. This decidedly small-feeling movie is deceptively large. Unfolding over a single day, hinging on the kind of moments of insight and clarity that pin Tobias Wolff stories to writing workshop syllabi, Jeff, Who Lives at Home contains two car chases, a violent mugging, a mad dash to save a life, several near fatalities and a forbidden-romance kiss in the rain. And the tone, a light comic naturalism, suggests any of it might happen to any of us, if we’re patient and alert.
Jason Segel plays Jeff, who lives at home and whose mother, an office clerk played by Susan Sarandon, does not even trust him to buy wood glue over the course of a day, but may snap if he doesn’t. Ed Helms is his brother Pat, who has a job, a wife, and an apartment–like an adult–but whose wife (Judy Greer, a rising favorite of mine) may leave him if he doesn’t return the Porsche he bought with no money down. Inspired by the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs, Jeff wanders through the world trying to decode it. Neurotic and anxious Pat is all action, no repose. Helms and Segel are hardly believable brothers, which is not at all important; they’re two non-functioning halves, incomplete lessons, Goofus Yin and Gallant Yang.
One of the movie’s most charming elements is its structure — while it’s clearly Jeff’s movie, he spends the bulk of it drifting through the subplot with his brother (and to a lesser extent his mother) as a foil, active but not effective. That’s the case until the very, very end–when all at once, the signs pay off.
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