By Jessica Delfanti | March 16, 2012
Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Writer: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer
Jason Segel is not a conventional leading man. With a pouting mouth, a freckled, broad face, and a gigantic frame, his career has mostly led to blustering comedic roles. While Segel is a natural with the funnies, it is a rare delight to see him drop the smiles and assume a more melancholy role in Jay and Mark Duplass’s listless drama Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
Segel plays Jeff, a thirty year old manboy that doesn’t do anything. Jeff is. He doesn’t do. He awaits a sign. On this day, his sign comes in the form of a wrong number, which directs him to follow the name Kevin wherever he sees it: on a basketball jersey, on a candy truck, anywhere. His adventures draw him into interactions with the other players in his life: his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who enlists him in a plot to catch his wife (Judy Greer) cheating; and his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who spends the day investigating a secret admirer.
With a sparse plot and minimal but wonderfully written dialogue, Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels at times like a play, at times like a home movie, and often, quite a bit like real life. All three of the central actors give unique and concise performances. Segel and Helms are nigh unrecognizable in their huffing and puffing, although their penchant for comedy surfaces on occasion.
The Duplass brothers are by now famous for their even pacing and calm, quiet tone. At times Jeff, Who Lives at Home drags, especially in scenes that don’t feature Segel. However, the muted, placid tone is fitting for the subject matter, as each of the characters balances carefully on the brink of an emotional revelation for most of the film.
It can be said that the film is an interesting look at the way that adult families coexist, but Jeff, Who Lives at Home taps into something far more profound and relevant than that. Jeff, searching desperately for something to give meaning to the events of his life, to his own existence, may not be the first character to focus on these questions. But framed against an economy that finds so many of today’s youth still living at home with few prospects for exit and parents whose habits enable their dormancy, the film assumes a social commentary that hits hard. Helms’ character calls Jeff a loser and informs him that there are grownup things he should have: a car, a wife, an apartment. But what if you are in a position that prevents you from taking advantage of the social constructs that offer a sense of “meaning”? Must you rely on happenstance events, on fate? Or should you open yourself to signs and plunge forward on faith?
While the film does admittedly end with some pretty shameless employment of deus ex machina, it’s cheeky enough that it doesn’t seem to matter. In the end, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a sweet, touching, and at times painful story. And in hard times, sometimes a good story is just what you need.
Also be sure to check out:
— our AFF 2011 video interview with Jay and Mark Duplass
— Don Simpson’s 8/10 review of Jeff, Who Lives at Home from AFF 2011