AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | October 28, 2011
Directors: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong, Joe Chrest, Steve Zissis
Jeff (Jason Segel) is a 30-year old man-child with no intentions of ever leaving his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. And why should he? Judging by his size, Jeff is well-fed; and while Sharon spends her 9-to-5 workday toiling away in a nondescript cubicle, Jeff is able to dedicate a majority of his time to ruminating upon an oblique philosophy of life inspired by M Night Shyamalan’s Signs while as high as a freakin’ kite.
Even the most insignificant thing may be a sign from the universe, at least that is what Jeff wholeheartedly believes. On this particular day — which just so happens to be Sharon’s birthday — the universe bombards Jeff with signs, some of which are more blatant than others. Commencing with a phone call that was intended for someone named Kevin, Jeff soon finds himself sliding down a proverbial rabbit hole propagated by coincidences and fate.
While on his way to pick up some wood glue from the hardware store, Jeff disembarks the bus before his intended destination in order to follow what he interprets to be a significant sign. When said sign eventually delivers Jeff to his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), it is difficult not to believe that Jeff is onto something. Pat has recently hit a rough patch with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) and the brothers team up on an adventure that is jointly [mis]guided by Jeff’s theories and Pat’s mid-life desperation.
It is a thing of beauty that Jeff is so selflessly willing to risk humiliation in order to assist his brother; then Pat turns around and repays the favor in spades during the out-of-left-field finale. Said finale — in one fell swoop — rescues Jeff, Pat and Sharon from the complacency of their lives; while it triggers a realization for us, the audience, that the so-called “universe” that has been relaying signs to Jeff is ruled by the [big] brothers Duplass.
At first I was a bit surprised by the tearjerker ending of Jeff Who Lives at Home, mainly because it seemed like such a blatantly Hollywoodesque attempt to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. But as time passed, it dawned on me that Jeff Who Lives at Home is essentially commenting on the concept of writers and directors playing god, albeit with significantly more subtlety than The Truman Show and Stranger Than Fiction. As the Duplass brothers toy with Jeff, they simultaneously play with the viewers’ emotions, thus reminding us of the highly manipulative powers of filmmakers.
Also be sure to check out:
— our AFF 2011 video interview with Jay and Mark Duplass
— Jessica Delfanti’s 7/10 review of Jeff, Who Lives at Home