JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME
By Gary Murray
Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong and Judy Greer
Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
Running time 83 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating—Cable
Jason Segel has been having a large amount of success in the last few years. The TV comedy actor has broken into film in a big way with such roles at The Muppets, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Bad Teacher. His latest takes a much more independent turn away from the mainstream. It is called Jeff, Who Lives at Home (JWLH).
The movie opens with a quote by Jeff (Jason Segel) about the movies Signs. In a stoner move, the man is obsessed with the film and how all the seemingly random events of the film tie together to a coherent whole. Though Jeff lives in Baton Rouge, the film could take place just about anywhere in the great heartland of the country.
The film has two random events that drive the plot, Jeff getting stoned and a phone call for someone named Kevin. There is no in his Mom’s basement named Kevin. Jeff sees it as a sign. (To be honest, there are no basements in Southern places like Baton Rouge.)
Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) is a typical go-getter who thinks that success is measured by the Porsche he recently acquired but cannot afford. He is the kind of guy who wears his Poplar Paint company shirt with overbearing pride. His wife Linda (Judy Greer) is a very unhappy soul who wants something more than what her husband is giving her. Their marriage seems to be heading toward breaking apart.
On the other side of the plot is Mom Sharon (Susan Sarandon). She works in an office and struggles to keep her sanity while having her grown son live in her basement. A widow, she gets a note then an IM from someone in the office who claims to be a secret admirer. Sharon confides this exciting little secret to her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), another bee in the workplace.
Jeff has a simple task, go to the store and get some wood glue to fix a slat. This leads him to a bus station where he sees a young man wearing a jersey with “Kevin” on the back. Jeff follows the man, eventually playing in a pick-up basketball game. This event changes the course of his day.
Walking down the street, Jeff runs into Pat outside a Hooters restaurant. This directs the story to Jeff seeing Linda driving around with another man. The film is how all these random events gel together into Jeff finding his destiny and the rest of the family finding out what is important in the world.
The film is made by the directing team of Jay and Mark Duplass, the guys behind Baghead and Cyrus. One of the tricks they employ to make the film ‘feel as if it is a documentary’ is to refocus the zoom and frame while the camera is running. The idea is to give some immediacy in the proceedings but it makes the film feel amateurish. It distracts from the story they are trying to tell.
The best moments of the film belong to Susan Sarandon. The put upon mother with the kids who just won’t leave strikes a familiar chord. The scene where a fire retardant system goes off and she is covered in cooling water speaks volumes with the idea of just letting go and accepting what life deals out. This woman still has that hippie mentality buried deep inside her, a mentality that comes out in a non-surprising way.
As much as I like Ed Helms in The Office, his performance comes across as lacking in JWLH. Much like his turn in Cedar Rapids, this is a character lost and without many redeeming qualities. He needs to find a role that shows his assets as a character actor and not just someone struggling in the muck of mediocrity.
Both Judy Greer and Rae Dawn Chong are given small parts and few beats to shine. The roles are almost thankless in their brevity and both actresses should have been given bigger scenes. With the film clocking-in at less than 90 minutes, the makers should have expanded their roles.
The film makes or breaks around the performance of Jason Segel and he is just okay as Jeff. The stoner character has been done better by better actors. His lack of drive is not along the lines of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. It almost becomes a derivative performance.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is not the kind of film that will light the fires under the careers of any of the players but it will not hurt their careers. It is mostly a forgettable entertainment, the kind of film that just seems to show up late at night on cable. You would watch it but not be involved in the experience.