One would likely expect a movie starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms to be an outright comedy, and perhaps hope for some frontal nudity from Segel. One might also think that with Susan Sarandon on the bill, there would a possibility for some dramatic overtones. Then there are the mumblecore twins, Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair, Baghead), working as co-directors and co-writers, mixing things up—but in a good way.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
brushes against all three genres (comedy, drama, mumblecore), resulting in a sweet, thoughtful movie that lingers on the viewer’s mind long after the end credits fade to black. It’s not an outright yuck-a-minute comedy, nor do the Duplass brothers cram their significant themes invoked by Jeff (Segel), his brother Pat (Helms) and widowed mother Sharon (Sarandon) into the story as they all hit the wall of life. Instead, Jeff serves up three relatable characters on a significant day of their lives that brings the family closer together while veering them all onto different courses.
Jeff is looking for clues, and after repeatedly watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs between hitting the bong in his mother’s basement, he’s convinced that he too must follow the signs—"Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe. Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs. Follow the signs, and you will uncover your destiny." He’s not finding much serendipitous guidance sequestered in the house, but after answering a misdialed call for Kevin (Evan Ross) he’s convinced he must somehow follow that lead.
Brother Pat is a self-important wannabe macho blowhard dealing with the onset of a midlife crisis. Disregarding his wife Linda’s (Judy Greer) careful financial planning for a new house, he buys himself a Porsche and is flabbergasted that she isn’t thrilled with the new ride. He also has to listen to his mother Sharon complain about the fact that Jeff is 30 and still living at home and can’t even follow simple instructions to go take the bus to Home Depot for wood glue to fix a kitchen shutter. It’s up to Pat to try to relate and inspire his pothead brother to lead a normal life, while he desperately tries to convince the world that his own is under control when it’s obviously not.
Sharon is frustrated with Jeff (after their last conversation about what he actually does in the basement all day, she doesn’t want to know) and feeling lonely as she recovers from the death of her husband. She feels disconnected from her sons while she’s wasting away and getting flabby in her office cube. A paper airplane sailing into her lap with an image of a rose and some anonymous flirty IMs from a secret admirer is just what her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) says she needs to get the juices flowing. But who and where is this love-struck co-worker who seems to know her every mood and move?
Jeff’s trek to the Home Depot leads him on a Kevin hunt and, inadvertently, directly into Pat’s path. The brothers see Linda getting into a car with another man (Steve Zissis) and team up to either prove she’s cheating on Pat or, according to Jeff, adding another intricate layer to the puzzle he must piece together. Jeff wants someone to understand him, Pat needs to feel love again and Sharon has to begin the third act of her life.
Segel and Helms are humorous, usually touchingly so, when they play against and relate to each other as brothers who couldn’t live in more opposite universes. Sarandon is her typical luminous self, not really needing dialogue to relay Sharon’s confusion when her secret admirer is revealed and her eventual acceptance. At 83 minutes, Jeff can seem slight—even the heroic climax is soft-pedaled—but the Duplasses have a refreshing expectation of an intelligent audience and refrain from hammering their point home.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
is now available on DVD (Paramount Home Media Distribution, MRSP: $29.99) and Blu-ray (MSRP: $40.99). There are no bonus features on either version aside from a redemption code to download a standard-definition version of the film via UltraViolet for TV, computer, tablet or smartphone, which expires June 19, 2013. A commentary track featuring the Duplasses, Segel, Helms and Sarandon would have been an appreciated addition, or at least some behind-the-scenes footage of the pivotal bridge scene. Maybe it’s the mumblecore less is more to the point of non-existence sensibility concept here, but why deny viewers a blooper reel with Segel and Helms? There’s not much initiative to buy the DVD or Blu-ray disc, as Netflix is cheaper. What kind of sign is that?
Oh, and sadly, Segel keeps his pants on.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.