16 March 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

To finish out my film viewing at SLIFF last November, I went to see the Duplass Brothers’ latest film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home. It opens this weekend here in St. Louis. This is their fourth feature length film, and only their second one made with the backing of a Hollywood studio. In 2010, they released Cyrus to critical acclaim, and it saw a modest box office take.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home stars Jason Segal as Jeff. He lives in his mother’s basement, where, according to his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) and brother Pat (Ed Helms), he is just wasting his life smoking pot. The movie opens with Jeff discussing the finer points of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. That is the way Jeff lives his life, through signs. A wrong number call asking for Kevin sends Jeff on a mission to discover why the call, and what Kevin has to do with anything. Then, Sharon calls him to ask that he buy wood glue to fix a blind in the door. As Jeff leaves his cozy basement and gets on the bus, a chance meeting with a random Kevin starts him on his adventure.

In the meantime, Pat is married to Linda (Judy Greer). He makes breakfast for the two of them, only to end up in the proverbial doghouse after buying a Porsche without her permission. Who would do that without consulting his wife? Pat must live by the same motto I do: It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Only, I have never purchased a sports car.

The rest of the film flows from one chance encounter to another. Jeff runs into Pat. Together, they accidentally find Linda at lunch with another man. In the meantime, a fellow co-worker has started hitting on Sharon. Her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) thinks it is great news. A few twists carry the rest of the story to its climactic conclusion on a bridge.

Jay and Mark co-wrote and co-directed, as they have on all their previous projects. The script is what you would expect from them. The direction is solid and real. Jay uses a lot of handheld shots to capture the moment. They also give the actors a lot of room to interpret, according to Jay’s post film Q & A. I was amazed at Jason Segal’s acting. He really went outside his How I Met Your Mother character, and really brought some depth to Jeff. Ed Helms also turned in an out of the ordinary performance. Susan Surandon and Judy Greer both were good as well. Mark’s real-life wife Katie Aselton has her usual cameo. Steve Zissis, a personal friend to the Duplass duo, has a rather significant role as Steve, the other man.

Each of the Duplass Brothers’ films shows their growth in filmmaking and scope. Puffy Chair, while a great movie, feels like a first film. Baghead, my personal favorite, has a little more ambition in it. By the time they made Cyrus, the Brothers had garnered a cult following. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is another giant leap forward in their filmmaking. From two guys that started out by making short films, they have grown into solid writers and directors. I recommend seeing Jeff, Who Lives at Home, especially if you are looking for something a little off the Hollywood radar. It is an enjoyable, feel-good film.

RATING: 8/10

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