Jeff Who Lives at Home is the latest movie from the Duplass brothers. The brothers are a part of school of film-making that has been named ˜mumblecore’ “ while not a conscious movement, it’s a term that has been used to group together a number of American independent films and filmmakers. Key characteristics include low budgets and production values and a naturalistic dialogue driven approach to narrative.
Jeff Who Lives at Home is a big budget production for the genre, with a budget of around $10 million (in contrast with the brothers’ 2005 movie The Puffy Chair, which was made on a reported $15,000). It follows a day in the life of Jeff (Jason Segel), a 30 year old stoner who still lives in his mother’s basement. Jeff is obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs and is constantly on the lookout for signs as to his destiny, always hopeful, or desperate, that fate has something more mind for him than sitting around in his pants, and occasionally leaving the house to run errands for his mother.
On the day in question, a wrong number convinces Jeff that the name Kevin is a sign, which leads to him following a man with ˜Kevin’ on the back of his basketball jersey and hitching a lift on the back of a van which has a sign reading ˜Kevin’. On the way he bumps into his brother Pat, whose marriage is falling apart and whose idea of a good time is spending the afternoon in Hooters. Ed Helms plays Pat as half Stu, his character from The Hangover and half David Brent, terrible goatee and all. Susan Sarandon plays the pair’s put-upon mother, who despairs of both of them. Pat thinks Jeff is an idiot with his big dreams, but after a while, and a series of minor misadventures he starts to wonder if they don’t make some kind of sense.
The naturalistic style and defiantly unglamorous locations of Jeff Who Lives at Home help us understand Jeff’s character “ he can hardly be blamed for choosing to believe that there must be something more to his life than this. He just has a different approach to things than his brother, who is equally unhappy, but whose misery is expressed through being vile to everyone, and buying a sportscar.
Jeff Who lives at Home’s naturalistic, downbeat tone is maintained well throughout, and there are some lovely poignant moments, as well some funny ones “ though it’s not really a laugh out loud comedy, more a quiet chuckle one. The funniest moments are when the brothers are bitching at one another and the fraternal relationship is pitch perfect. There are a couple of minor issues with the film “ there’s what seems to be a directorial tic of framing the shot then doing a sharp zoom “ often found in mockumentaries as a technique to imply that they’re capturing live action and need to re-focus. It’s used a lot in this movie and feels out of place “ the movie is not shot in a mockumentary style in any other respect.
The other issue I had was that after building a picture of disappointing, eventless lives, the finale builds to a number of quite significant events – maybe a lower key ending would have felt more in keeping with the preceding action. Also, it would have been more pleasing if a way could have been found to make it less clear whether Jeff’s belief in the signs and of all things having a meaning was right or wrong “ again, the conclusiveness of how this pans out didn’t feel quite right. But quibbles aside, Jeff Who lives at Home is a sweet-natured, melancholy movie with a terrific central performance, and is worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time.