Jay and Mark Duplass, pioneers of the ‘mumblecore’ genre, returned this year with another low-fi indie comedy drama in Jeff, Who Lives At Home. Typically thin on plot and with semi-improvised dialogue used sparingly throughout, Jeff doesn’t really push any new boundaries and won’t stick long in the memory, but it’s a well-meaning and heartfelt movie which benefits greatly from strong lead performances.
Jason Segal is Jeff, a likeable stoner man-child who remains stuck in arrested development and still resides in his widowed mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. We first meet Jeff as he sits on the toilet and muses to himself on the significance of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie ‘Signs’. His pseudo philosophical ramblings are only inflamed further when he receives a phone call from a stranger who is seeking ‘Kevin’. Adopting the mentality that everything happens for a reason and wondering “what if there are no wrong numbers?” Jeff uses his mum’s request that he finally goes out and buys her some much-needed wood glue, as an excuse to seek out the mysterious ‘Kevin’ and in doing so perhaps give himself some much needed direction.
Once out and about, Jeff bumps into his brother Pat (Ed Helms), a moderately successful middle-manager who at first glance appears to have his life fairly together. We soon come to realise however that all is perhaps not so rosey. He puts great stock in appearances and status, as exemplified by his expensive Porsche and pretentious driving gloves, and thus sits in direct contrast to amiable Jeff. The two brothers are clearly not particularly close at the film’s outset and we have already seen Pat explaining to his mother that he and Jeff ‘just don’t have that sort of relationship’ when she asks him to look out for his younger brother. Yet when Pat becomes convinced his wife is cheating on him, he turns to Jeff to help him find proof. As the brothers charge around town in pursuit of Pat’s wife, Jeff begins to find a purpose he’s been missing in life as well as further evidence to support his new-found belief in destiny. There is also a fairly irrelevant sub-plot involving Sharon and a workplace crush which does smack slightly of padding out the runtime. The three family members’ lives come together in a slightly convoluted climax that nonetheless packs a surprisingly emotional punch.
The three leads are all in great form and while Segal can do the endearing slacker thing standing on his head, he injects Jeff with a sensitive and wounded personality which adds vital substance to what could be in the wrong hands a fairly generic role. Helms is also on safe ground as an uptight asshole but he delivers a well-rounded character who shows a clear personal development over the film’s short runtime.
The Duplass brothers find a much needed balance between family drama and their own brand of whimsical comedy. One stand out scene sees the two brothers eavesdropping on Pat’s wife as she has dinner with an unknown man. A sheepish Jeff sits in the next booth, his phone held up to capture the conversation as an enraged Pat listens from the bushes outside. It’s clear that the connection between the two brothers is very much at the centre of the story and as they both grow desperate for guidance and a new direction, they come to learn that their own relationship is something to be cherished.
It’s a little lightweight in some regards and seems to struggle to really hit home its point, but there’s enough warmth and humour involved to keep things on the right track. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is enjoyable while it lasts, but it’s not the poignant tale of destiny and finding meaning in your life that it could so easily have been.
With thanks to Blink Box: Watch Movies Online