Jeff, Who Lives at Home – All ‘Signs’ Point to Excellence

If you have not yet seen a Duplass Brothers’ film, you’re truly missing out.  Since their 2005 Sundance hit, The Puffy Chair, Jay and Mark Duplass have made a name for themselves in Hollywood as the guys who create charming, character driven genre films at a low price.  The Puffy Chair (their first film) is essentially a road trip story, both in actuality and metaphorically.  That film cost them $15,000 to make, and their follow up, Baghead, a unique take on horror, cost the brothers nearly the same amount.  Buzz around their films caught Hollywood’s attention and in 2010 Fox Searchlight financed the brothers’ first big-budget ($7 million) film, Cryus.  This time a love-triangle movie involving a man (John C. Reilly), a mother (Marissa Tomei), and her son (Jonah Hill), the brothers proved they could bring their unique style of filmmaking to a larger level and attract bigger named stars along the way.  We see this again in their newest film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home.

Again playing on genre, Jeff is a coming-of-age buddy movie, with a little romance and stoner comedy thrown in.  The film opens up with Jeff (Jason Segal) revealing to his voice recorder his outlook on life and its meaningful coincidences, as told through the plot of Signs.  All this is happening while sitting on the toilet (that is where we do our best thinking, right?).  Jeff still lives at home (I know) with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), and seems to just lay around all day smoking weed and sitting through multiple viewings of the aforementioned Signs.  The phone rings and the person on the other line asks for Kevin, but when Jeff insists that there isn’t a Kevin who lives there, the guy on the other line gets angry, yells, and hangs up.  Fate plays a very important role in this film because Jeff is a big believer in it; that everything happens for a reason.  When the phone rings again, Jeff hesitates after answering in silence, though this time its not related to Kevin (or is it?), but rather his mother telling him he needs to get his rear in gear and go buy wood glue to fix the door in the kitchen.  So the adventure begins.

After a minor misstep in Jeff’s journey of the day, finding Kevin, we are introduced to Pat (Ed Helms), Jeff’s older brother.  If Jeff is the innocent, optimistic guy living life sign by sign, Pat is the everyday, glass half-empty one.  Pat is at Hooters, drowning himself in light beer and hot wings after a fight with his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), because he irresponsibly bought a Porche instead of saving their money for a proper home.  The brothers coincidently cross paths in the parking lot and team up to go get the wood glue for their mom.  Shortly thereafter, Pat crashes the new car and together they spot Linda with another man across the street getting gas.  Is this the Kevin that Jeff is looking for?  We don’t know, but the two set off to find out what exactly is going on with Pat’s wife, and a new journey begins.

Jeff and Pat’s story is intercut with that of their mother.  At her workplace, Sharon receives an anonymous instant message on her computer from a secret admirer.  Being a window and suffering from being “old and flabby”, Sharon is caught off guard by this, and assumes someone is playing a joke on her.  As we come to find out though, this is not the case and leads to one of the film’s greatest scenes.  Sharon’s story comes and goes elegantly throughout the film, splitting the time between the brothers and her gives the story a real-time feel, surely aided by the handheld, documentary approach to Jay Duplass’s shooting style.

At the core, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is about these three related characters finding what they’ve been looking for, but without out really knowing what they were looking for (make sense?).  And at the end, you might just walk away from the film a better person.  Like Jeff.

-Kyle Owen

Out on DVD/Blu-ray today.

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