Smile Politely

What is your destiny?

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
3/4 stars

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a comedy that approaches humor in the way that most indie style comedies do. They’re funny in an ironic and sarcastic manner, keeping a perceived level of sophistication above anything that may venture into straightforward joke or slapstick. Instead, much of the effort is focused on trying to break your heart. They will try to tear you down and then build you up with subtle wit, quirk, and warmth. It’s the kind of thing that makes you smirk and, at times, chokes you up a bit.

I’ve come to grow tired of most films these days due to their formulaic scripts, regurgitated stories, and tired clichés. Fortunately, Jeff brings layers and authenticity. It’s not just brooding and self-absorbed loathing here, despite some of the typical indie comedy methodology I just described. Pieces ultimately fit into place and things are held together, even if they need some improbable help. There’s a greater purpose than just trying to be cool.

Writer and Director brother duo Mark and Jay Duplass utilize Jason Segal (Jeff) and Ed Helms (Pat) to their maximum effectiveness and help foster a great on-screen rapport between the two comedy veterans. I’ve been a fan of Segal for years and he brings out the deeply rooted pain and tenderness in Jeff. He’s a sage-like figure hiding inside a slacker pothead.

The opening scene of the film presents Jeff recording a private, dramatic, and emotionally charged review of Signs while he’s on the toilet. He finds irony in the little girl’s collection of full water glasses and her refusal to drink them, which ultimately saves the family. Jeff ponders his own fate, as he is stuck in a state of constant struggle and suffering. This is his Samsara.

Jeff believes that everything happens for a reason. He is confounded by phone calls he receives for a man named Kevin that he neither lives with nor knows. He is curious about his fate and asks, “What if there’s no wrong numbers?”

Jeff’s passiveness subsides when he sees a man on the same bus wearing a jersey with “Kevin” on the back. He follows the man (and his fate) to try to solve the riddle of life which he feels he has been presented. At times, he senses that “something feels wrong” and he looks for signs to seek understanding. His journey leads him to other “Kevin” appearances, which lead him further down his path to enlightenment.

Pat, on the other hand, is a go-getter whose ambitions are often misplaced. He surprises his wife Linda (Judy Greer) with waffles, strawberries, and whip cream one morning. Linda is suspicious of such behavior since Pat is haphazard, immature, and indifferent. “Relationships need flowers and flowers need water to bloom,” he says, just before revealing that he bought a new Porsche. A house and their future as a couple never seemed more distant.

It’s this distance that ties together the plot of the film, as Pat tries to confirm whether his wife is having an extramarital affair. Jeff and Pat, estranged brothers, cross paths and seek their own destiny separately, but also in unison.

Greer exudes sympathy in her role as Linda, an ignored wife who is essentially someone just to put down to lift up Pat. Jeff’s tuned-in aloofness (if that can exist) seems to understand Linda, and his deep seeded emotional weight is evident in his face.

Some of the authenticity of Jeff also comes from the way that it’s shot by cinematographer Jas Shelton and directed by the Duplass brothers, with its Cinéma vérité approach that adequately captures heartfelt human interactions.

There’s a lot going on in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, including a side plot that follows Sharon, Jeff and Pat’s mother, who is caught in a flirtatious secret admirer computer chat at work. Her excitement and struggle gives insight and background to her children’s troubles and behavior throughout the film and adds more warmth to a solid film.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is now playing at the Art Theater.


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