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Jeff, Who Lives at Home
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brett Gallman

"Jeff vs. The Universe"
4 stars

Most of us know a guy like this film’s title character. If we haven’t encountered him in our lives, then we’ve certainly encountered him on theater screens before, particularly since our mulitplexes have recently runneth over with overgrown man-children. We’ve even seen Jason Segel do this before, but here he is again as Jeff, the lovable loser and the slacker with a heart of gold--and he’s every bit as charming in this Duplass Brothers dramedy that’s like a quintessentially quirky indie take-off of “Signs,” only there’s no aliens.

Right off of the bat, you find it difficult not to admire a guy like Jeff. He might be a thirty year old stoner who lives in his mother’s basement, but his seemingly listless life is actually guided by the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s alien flick: that everything happens for a reason, and following the signs will eventually lead to his destiny--or at least off of his couch. That’s where he’s coaxed from one day by his mother (Susan Sarandon), who implores him to finally fix a broken shutter in their home. Either his whacked out philosophy or the weed gets the best of him (or probably both), but Jeff is easily sidetracked and sent on a quest that ends up intertwining with his older brother Pat’s (Ed Helms) crumbling marriage.

These two are estranged, and it’s easy to blame Jeff’s lifestyle on this estrangement since Pat has “grown up” to have a steady job and a relationship. However, it’s soon clear that this is just a façade because Pat is just as emotionally stunted (if not more so) than his slacker brother. Helms gives one of his best performances to date because he’s playing off of his typical shtick a bit--he’s every bit the finicky dork he usually portrays, only he’s overcompensating and ends up playing the oddball that thinks he’s the straight man in this duo. Both of these men are oblivious to certain things, but Jeff is the sort of good-natured dolt who can’t fathom that anyone wouldn’t tell the truth, whereas Pat is a bit more callous and can’t fathom his own shortcomings. He’s the type of guy who thinks a Porsche will provide a solution to his martial troubles.

There’s an inherent irony to how these two fit together; both have been drifting since their father died during their teenage years, but both discover they aren’t as happy or as unhappy as they’ve thought themselves to be. Uncovering this simple fact involves a somewhat absurd journey that takes them through the streets of Baton Rouge as they tail Pat’s possibly adulterous wife (Judy Greer). In keeping with Jeff’s notion of a karmic order, the film practically glides and effortlessly creates an endearing portrait that’s as funny as it is emotionally resonant. The characters’ weaknesses, particularly Pat’s, are often laid bare, though the film resists making them come off as bad people, which is the crux of the film’s effectiveness.

If “Jeff” stumbles, it’s when it takes time to check in on what Sarandon is up to; she spends most of the time working at her office and engaging the flirty overtures of a secret admirer. While Sarandon is more than well-suited for the role and she’s needed to round out this clearly broken family, the film loses a bit of steam whenever we switch over to her. Jeff and Pat’s quest is so fluid and compelling that you’re a bit disappointed to ever have to leave it. However, given the title character’s belief in fate, you place enough trust in the Duplass Brothers to bring it all together in the end .

And they do. Maybe they do so in an overly sweet, obvious fashion that’s telegraphed from the movie’s opening title card, but it’s so well done that it practically melts most of my critical defenses. This is a cute family drama that admittedly only causes you to ponder the sorts of things that freshman year philosophers might dwell on, such as the cosmic implications of every step or decision you make. Taken on its own, it’s not a particularly deep concept (the movie admits to riffing on “Signs,” after all), but I love its breezy optimism and its insistence that four people’s lives can be tidily sorted out over the course of a day’s seemingly random and unconnected events.

Such a notion sounds exceedingly hollow and false, but “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” makes the note ring true with a collection of finely-pitched performances and a clever, witty screenplay. Most of all, I enjoy its infatuation with its title character--Jeff may be a slackery dope, but he’s the Duplass’s slackery dope, so they hold any judgment. In fact, the biggest joke here might be that he’s got his stuff together more so than anyone--including himself--might believe.

Like “Young Adult,” this film’s effectiveness may hinge on how much you can identify with characters who are emotionally stuck, and the Duplass’s touch here is lighter and bouncier, but it’s no less poignant. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is ultimately an underdog tale that pits a slacker against an unruly cosmos, and it’s undeniably charming to see him bring order to it all, especially if you’ve ever found yourself desperately looking for the meaning of life in the oddest corners of the universe like Jeff does.

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originally posted: 03/31/12 16:16:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2011 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 34th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/13/13 Flipsider Awful move, forced drama, bad score, terrible ending. 1 stars
10/02/12 mr.mike OK home vid watch 3 stars
4/03/12 shawn parker heartfelt and often hilarious. jeff is the rare comedic character you wanted more time with 4 stars
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  16-Mar-2012 (R)
  DVD: 19-Jun-2012


  DVD: 19-Jun-2012

Directed by
  Jay Duplass
  Mark Duplass

Written by
  Jay Duplass
  Mark Duplass

  Jason Segel
  Judy Greer
  Ed Helms
  Susan Sarandon
  Rae Dawn Chong
  Katie Aselton

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