Jeff Who Lives at Home is a little gem of a movie. If you hadn’t heard about it from a friend, or read about it on someone’s blog, you would miss it. It’s one of those movies that all-too-often fall through the cracks and get little notice. I stumbled across it purely by accident; it was a recommended view on a film site for people who liked Cyrus. I wasn’t interested in seeing it at first. First of all, I’m not the biggest fan of Jason Segel, the lead actor in the film. Second, the trailer did nothing to draw me in; it was too long and revealed a bit too much of the story. In the end, I was just curious enough to give it a try, for a few minutes, anyway… to see if anything interesting would lure me into watching it beyond the opening scenes. I’m glad I gave it a shot. The story and lead performance hooked me right away.
I won’t go over the plot. It’s pretty well summed up in the title. Actually, you could argue that there really is no plot, that Jeff Who Lives at Home is nothing more than a slice-of-life glimpse into the seemingly aimless existence of a very unusual character. Events and circumstances take place randomly – outside the framework of a story that overtly lets you know it’s “going somewhere.” But, it is going somewhere; it’s just not telegraphed. We follow three story lines that start off with no hint of relevance to each other and by the end of the film, they come together nicely – and in a way that “means something.” I loved it. One of the stories could have tied in just a tad better, but for the most part it was great.
The Duplass brothers are quite an interesting director pair. They first got my attention with their previous movie, Cyrus. That was an unexpected gem of 2010. It didn’t get much exposure, but if you’re a fan of black comedies, you should definitely check it out sometime. Their other feature films include The Puffy Chair and Baghead. Jeff Who Lives at Home marks their fourth and best movie to date. The Duplass brothers definitely have a talent for writing. They take simple stories and make them very compelling. Another thing they do great is balance the drama and comedy in a way that meshes together extremely well. This is something they’ve consistently honed. I would say they’ve mastered it at this point – and what a great thing, so early in their careers. I look forward to so much more from them. The dialog consistently made me laugh and yet the script is very smart – multi-dimensional and layered with nuance and observations on human nature that effortlessly bubble to the surface, like a gently boiling pot of budding on the stove. The pace of the story was relaxed and perfectly paced, with not one uneven scene or moment in the film. And what really added strength and glue to the various parts of Jeff Who Lives at Home that had to come together and mesh for the effort to work were the characters.
When you start out you don’t really know how to feel towards Jeff. He’s this guy living in his mother’s basement. Not exactly an original plot idea. It’s been used in several films over the last few years – a recurring comedy device that’s kind of predictable. Jeff,though, breathes fresh air into this movie idea. He’s interesting and you quickly develop an affection for his character. Jeff’s brother, Pat, on the other hand, is a “douche bag,” but he doesn’t have a clue that he is. And, surprisingly, his character avoids coming off as unlikable. In fact, everything that happens to Pat turns out to be significant and meaningful… to Jeff. Jeff’s widowed mom is tired of her boring and “robotic” life. She’s stuck in a rut. They all are – Jeff, Pat, their mom. How did they get there? How can they break out? All the characters have depth and each one, in his or her respective way, pulls you into the movie. We grow to care about them all.
The Duplass’ direction can be hit and miss at times. It never misses the mark too far, though. And when it hits, it has a big impact. The only director’s choice that bothered me was the cinematography at times. Throughout the movie the camera would suddenly use a zoom-in zoom-out technique, for no apparent reason. For me, this seemed unnecessary and was a little distracting.
Although I loved Jason Segel’s performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, after that he’s fallen into playing the same character. In his performance as Jeff, he breaks free of that typecast and really does an outstanding job in his role as Jeff. He lends the part good nature and charm in spades. His performance is a big part of why the movie worked so well for me. Without his performance, I think the movie would have suffered. I can say the same thing about Ed Helms. He plays the clueless jerk. And instead of coming off as obnoxious, he adds enough depth, nuance and dimension to his character to make us care about him, in the end. Susan Sarandon gets in some good screen time. She delivers a very up-close and personal performance and it was great to see her shine in the part. The entire supporting cast was great.
What really helps make the movie is its charm. It has a certain quality that draws you in and involves you in the lives of the characters. I was enjoying the film immensely the whole time, but a thought kept lingering in the back of my mind. How is this going to end? A good ending was going to be needed to tie up all the loose ends, and bring the story together. This is a movie of random events and their impact on people, but the ending still caught me off guard and had me on the edge of my seat. IT DID tie up all the loose ends, and more. The messages and conclusions of the story were eminently satisfying. And I’m glad they didn’t hit you over the head with a two by four to get them across – kudos for the subtlety.
Jeff Who Lives at Home is one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, so far. It was released amid a crowded field of mainstream movies and it was pretty much ignored, this upsets me because this doesn’t deserve that. It has a few flaws and you can nitpick some things about it, but the movie, as a whole, is so refreshingly satisfying to watch, that you won’t care. I would highly recommend this film to anybody. I think anyone can find something to like.