Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jason Segal in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a movie from the Duplass Brothers
 *** out of ****

There are a lot of all-in-one-day dramas and comedies such as Magnolia, After Hours, or Crash (not referring to the Cronenberg movie) that depend on a strange amount of coincidence. Actually a lot of movies do. I think it adds some level of comfort to the viewer that in the movie world, there can be something mystical at work. This is addressed in the first scene of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, where the main character, Jeff played by Jason Segal speaks of his love for M. Night Shamalan's film, Signs and how meaningful he finds it that in the end of the movie, a bunch of seemingly random elements all play a part in saving the characters. Jeff believes that he needs to open his eyes to the cosmic messages that come from unlikely sources in everyday life. Jeff smokes a lot of pot.

He is also thirty, lives with his mother (Susan Sarandon) and is unemployed. Today he is expected by Mom to go out and buy some wood glue to make a home repair while she is at work. Due to a phone call Jeff gets from a guy who probably had the wrong number, Jeff believes he needs to spend the day looking for the name, Kevin. His idiotic journey takes us out of our typical expectations for a movie to have funny coincidences so that we can watch Jeff look like a fool and then be amused when fortuitous things happen anyway, which reaffirm his faith.

Jeff is not the only delusional character. This movie is shared with his brother, Pat, played by Ed Helms. Pat seems to be successful in relation to Jeff which doesn't say much. He has pathetic materialistic priorities aimed at acquiring the image of status despite the fact that he lives in a small apartment with his unhappy wife (Judy Greer). He's just put their marriage to the test by blowing their savings on a Porsche. 

While Jeff is out on his mission, the two intersect and just when Jeff is getting a bit of undesired condescending advise from Pat about getting his life together, Pat makes a dumb mistake that makes his worse. In the middle of the trouble, they spot Pat's wife driving around with another man. Pat pressures Jeff into helping him spend the day spying on them. Jeff finds many distractions along the way.

Then there is the mother who is stuck in her office cubicle reflecting on the loneliness her life has been since Jeff and Pat lost their father as kids. She is receiving anonymous IMs on her computer from a secret admirer and is intrigued to find out who.

I don't normally feel compelled to explain the plot to movies when I write a review, but this is one where it seems kind of fun to describe these characters. The film is directed with the naturalism of brothers Jay and Mark Duplass who make character-piece comedies that feel pretty fresh but always have a slightly forced randomness in their cinematography. The camera doesn't need to zoom and shake as much as it does in this movie. Even if this were a documentary, no cameraman would be this busy moving the camera around. It's needlessly dizzying at first but I got used to it.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home basically aims to be a pretty realistic feel-good comedy drama and for the most part, it succeeds. It is about someone looking for meaning in coincidences and is lucky enough to find what could be interpreted as such. It loses believability with the character Pat. Like so many douchey characters in comedies, he doesn't come with enough background information to explain why he ever landed a self-respecting intelligent woman, except that their relationship invites a conflict for our entertainment. It also gives him the opportunity to grow maturity he doesn't seem capable of growing for our satisfaction. Everyone is funny in their roles. Something that never stops being funny, is that a person could be so affected by a movie like Signs. I suppose The Happening would have been an even funnier choice.

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