Humor Right at Home for Duplass Brothers’ Jeff
Jeff (Jason Segel) lives in the basement of his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) home. He doesn’t do much of anything, just looking for signs as to what the meaning behind events might be and trying to find how everything in the universe is connected. Also, he smokes pot. Lots and lots of pot.
His brother Pat (Ed Helms) is self-centered and lives beyond his means. His wife Linda (Judy Greer) is livid that he’s spent money on a Porsche they can’t afford and doesn’t know how to drive. Their marriage is a mess even if Pat can’t see it, the guy more annoyed that his mother is constantly calling him to check on Jeff in order to make sure he’s doing the few minuscule tasks she’s asked him to complete.
Through a bizarre series of events, Jeff and Pat suddenly find themselves together stalking the streets trying to discover if Linda is having an affair. There have been signs, signals that something big is going to happen, Jeff positive of the truth behind that sentiment while Pat sarcastically scoffs at the idea. But nothing is as it seems, and soon Jeff, Pat, Sharon and Linda will find themselves all thrown together into a maelstrom of circumstance and fate well beyond their control.
Ambiguous enough for you? Truth be told, Jay and Mark Duplass’ (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) latest Jeff, Who Lives at Home is their roughest and most bizarre effort to date, and that’s saying something when you consider the pair also have the mumblecore suspense-thriller Baghead on their resume. This movie is an independent, dialogue-driven, comedic riff on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, the final product a tale of brotherly love and familial devotion that’s more touching and poignant than the first half hour initially led me to believe.
And, boy, is that opening 30 minutes rough. I didn’t know what to think of Jeff, the way he fumbled and bumbled for apparently no reason, all of it too bizarrely obtuse. As for Pat, I couldn’t stand the guy. The way he treats Linda over breakfast, how he verbally abuses Jeff from the first moment the two coincidentally come into contact, all of it was making me wish I didn’t have to spend another second with the guy, and the idea I was going to be with him for just under 90 minutes was almost more than I could bear.
But a funny thing happens as the movie goes along. Jeff becomes more of an interesting curiosity than he is a baffling oddity. More importantly, the cracks in Pat’s shell begin to show, making him more human, more intriguing, more like a guy I kind of wanted to learn more about. On top of that, a surreal subplot involving Sharon, her coworker Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) and a mysterious secret admirer ends up being quite fascinating, discovering the truth behind the instant messages a thing I found I excitedly wanted to learn the answer to.
The Duplass’ gift for witty and humorous dialogue is as strong as ever. There are numerous lines that had me chuckling to myself, and while the laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between (like all of the pair’s motion pictures), that doesn’t make what’s happening here any less uncomfortably hysterical for much of the running time. These guys have a knack for plumbing some pretty ugly depths of the human condition. Yet they do so in a way that feels intimate and real, their work here a great example of that.
Helms and Segel were made to work with the Duplass brothers. They embrace both the concept and the dialogue completely, throwing themselves into this scenario with suitably anachronistic abandon. The real surprise, if it’s possible for her to surprise, is Sarandon. She’s splendid as Sharon, the Oscar-winner finding little delights in her reactions and actions as the mystery surrounding who her workplace admirer deepens as events progress.
It is the climax that reinforced my continued love for Jay and Mark Duplass. The pair have crafted a finale that is charmingly inspired, paying delicate homage to films like Signs while also poking gentle fun at the inherent ‘twists’ that make movies like Shyamalan’s tick. The last moments speak to the concepts of family, brotherhood and marriage in a way that touched my heart and also tickled my funny bone, and while Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn’t perfect these precious final minutes were, and for my money that’s all that matters.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)