Written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
The Duplass brothers’ fourth feature length effort opens with its protagonist Jeff (Jason Segel), wielding a voice recorder, discussing how rewarding he finds M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Heavily relating to that film’s themes of fate and purpose, Jeff also expresses admiration for how various seemingly superfluous elements in its narrative come together to provide a particularly potent conclusion. Jeff, Who Lives at Home has something of a similar narrative structure to the way its lead describes Signs, with fate and purpose being particularly prominent concerns, and various seemingly unrelated elements cumulating and crossing paths in the film’s finale. The result, however, is not quite so strong.
Jeff is around 30 years old and unemployed, his aimlessness proving a source of irritation for his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) whose basement he lives in. For her birthday, all she wants him to do is leave the house, journey into town, buy some wood glue and fix a shutter on one of her doors. Jeff eventually accepts his task, which coincides with exposure to an apparent “sign” akin to those of his opening Shyamalan-based monologue. On his journey to the hardware store, Jeff is quickly distracted by various omens, which eventually direct him into an encounter with his estranged brother Pat (Ed Helms), a man in the midst of a marital crisis and dismissive of his brother’s philosophy. Pat enlists Jeff to help him survey apparent signs of his wife’s infidelity, the paths of the brothers repeatedly crossing throughout the day as a result of the apparent omens Jeff observes and follows. In addition to the misadventures of Jeff and his brother, another subplot concerns Sharon and an instant messenger-based secret admirer at work, alongside her conversations with a co-worker played by Rae Dawn Chong.
The cast provide an enjoyable sweetness despite the Duplass brothers’ heavy improvisational leanings resulting in some characters that feel a bit under-realised, particularly in the case of Helms’ Pat and Judy Greer as his long-suffering wife, Linda; a tearful confrontation between the two feels particularly contrived. There is also some frustration to be found in Sharon’s storyline. While there is occasional charm to be found in her sequences, the progression and resolution of her story feels so predictable and its ultimate lack of influence from Jeff’s odyssey seems at odds with the film’s championing of interconnectedness. The comedy is mostly based around Jeff’s earnest ideology and physical humour, the latter being the most consistently effective element. It never sinks to low depths but a lot of the humour possesses a flat, underwhelming quality, and much of the film, more so in its first half, feels unfortunately sluggish even for a work of such a relatively short running time. The brothers’ motif of frequent zooming in and out within a shot proves additionally bothersome, lending an irritating, jarring quality that doesn’t serve its characters especially well.
The conclusion of Jeff, Who Lives at Home is where the film does actually succeed particularly strongly. The interconnection reaches an initially foreseeable outcome as all the main characters finally meet up in the one place, but the story suddenly takes a surprisingly visceral and devastating turn as one of its characters unveils a sense of clarity regarding their apparent destiny. Not to spoil anything, but the established back story of the two brothers having lost their father at a young age proves especially vital to the sequence’s emotional impact. It is a development that succeeds in elevating the overall impression of the film, but it’s just a shame that the journey to that point isn’t quite so fulfilling beyond being admirably earnest and reasonably amusing.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home was the surprise film screening of the Glasgow Film Festival.
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