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Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Thirtysomething- It's not easy being a pothead slacker living in Mom's basement

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Jeff, Who Lives at Home

B

With each and every film they make, Jay and Mark Duplass (Humpday, Cyrus) get closer and closer to creating a conventional Hollywood comedy. And yet, despite the increasingly light tone and contrived plotting of their work, they still manage to maintain the lo-fi, spontaneous, straight-faced sincerity that made their earlier movies so damn appealing. If you can forgive the self-conscious crash zooms and hand-held affectations, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is another amiable comedy that plays more for chuckles than out-and-out laughs.

Titular hero Jeff (Jason Segel) is a 30-year-old, pot-smoking slacker who lives in his mother's (Susan Sarandon) basement, awaiting the signs (his favorite film is M. Night Shylaman's Signs) that will point him toward his destiny. On dear old mom's birthday, he's sent to the Home Depot to buy some glue and ends up entangled in the marital problems of his older brother Pat (Ed Helms). A top-flight douche, Pat has spent the couple's meager savings on a Porsche and now suspects that his angry and frustrated wife (Judy Greer) has started an affair with a co-worker. Together the brothers follow Pat's wife around, hoping to catch her in flagrante delicto. Meanwhile, Jeff's mom attempts to figure out which of her co-workers is sending her adoring e-mails, fearing that she's being mocked.

Yes, it's another man-child makes good storyline, yet Jeff, Who Lives at Home still manages to find poignancy, mainly because of Segel's shaggy-dog charm, and his obvious rapport with Helms. In less capable hands, Jeff could have been insufferably twee or obnoxiously immature, but Segel gives him a sweet, naive oafishness that fits in with the Duplass brothers' warmhearted humanism. His relationship with his older brother Pat feels both unscripted and authentic. Helms, on the hand, plays a more obnoxious version of the uptight middle manager he's created for films like The Hangover and Cedar Rapids. A first-order prick, his Pat doesn't really earn his eventual redemption (the movie too easily excuses his worst traits), but his later scenes with the wonderful (and underutilized) Greer are convincingly awkward.

More promising is the subplot involving Sarandon's search for her mysterious admirer. With both insight and sensitivity, the movie confronts the self-esteem issues that plague many middle-aged single women today. One almost wishes the Duplasses had made it the centerpiece of their movie.

And if you ever wondered what the hell happened to Rae Dawn Chong, Jeff, Who Lives at Home answers by giving her a meaty supporting role as Sarandon's confidante.

It's only in the movie's last 20 minutes — when the Duplasses attempt to bring everyone together in a dramatic payoff — that things go awry. Segel and Helms aren't exactly comfortable with the more serious tone, and the spiritual finale isn't ironic enough to sell its date-with-destiny twist. A better written and less literal ending might have worked, had the brothers reached for something more subtle than all the characters meet in a traffic jam.

Still, with Jeff's plucky desire to stand tall (even if the Duplasses ultimately give him an artificial moment of actualization), the message that in order to find true meaning in our lives, we should recognize what's right in front of us is a worthy one. And a hell of a challenge for Paramount's marketing department.

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