JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a film about a lot of things, a film about nothing and a film that will have you leaving the theatre with so many contradictory emotions and ideas floating around in your head as to make you forget this horrible opening sentence. The Duplass brothers bring their brand of melancholic dead-humour (jokes that aren’t jokes, jokes that are dead before they are told but are somehow hysterical and true) to a movie starring Jason Segal as a pothead, Ed Helms as tight assed workaholic and Susan Sarandon as their weary mother. Now please don’t start shaking your head and rolling your eyes – ”an indie melacomedy about a dysfunctional family haven’t seen THAT before” – JEFF is the real deal.
The film starts with one of the funniest title gags of recent memory, and continues into establishing our main cast of characters. Jeff is obsessed with destiny – he has been waiting patiently, every day of his life, for signs from the power cosmic to point him in the right direction. That day just hasn’t happened yet, and that’s why he sits in his mother’s basement watching SIGNS and TV infomercials while taking bong hits. His brother, Pat, seems far more succesful in every way – employed, married and equipped with a brand new Porsche. However, one of the things the film does best is it doesn’t present either lifestyle as being the incorrect one – we’ve all seen too many films where the workaholic learns to let loose a little bit while the party stoner learns the power of responsibilty. Jeff and Pat are just two different people who happen to be related and don’t have much in common besides that. When their mother asks Jeff to, in presumably the first time in 29 years, help with a household chore, destiny intervenes and soon enough we’ve got a plot on our hands.
Jeff’s obsession with the name Kevin takes him to an impromptu basketball game, a hitch on a candy delivery truck, a mugging (he’s the victim) and even a car crash in his brother’s new porsche – where they see Pat’s wife at a gas station with a strange man. The funny thing is, a lot of the movies biggest laughs come from nothing but the characters reactions – very Hitchcock. We’ll see a shot of Jeff looking, a shot of what Jeff’s looking at, and then Jeff’s big, gummy face filling the screen saying nothing, saying more about his character than words could. Another one of the moments is when Sharon – the boys’ mother – starts recieving flirty instant messages at work. We see her looking at the screen, frustrated and sure this is nothing but a joke, a shot of the screen, with the typed words promising she’s real and beautiful and worth admiring, back to a shot of Sharon, modestly biting her index fingernail. This movie is full of laughs, small human laughs, about these fragile characters and the world they inhabit.
In a lot of ways, to me, that’s the movie’s big question – is their only two tracks of life in the modern, hypercapitalist New World lifestyle? To work hard, to get paid, to have a family but always feel unsatisfied, or to wait for your dream, wait for an answer and wait for a sign or guiding hand from somewhere, whilst feeling unsatisifed? I think to some, the ending of the movie may feel too movie, too cheap and too unreal in a flick so brutally real, but I don’t think so. The ending to the movie is the answer to the question and the question isn’t there IS a destiny so just hold on and keep waiting – the answer is to do what is natural to you, do what only you can do and what only you can love to do. Jeff is a hero who lost his father too soon and could never bare for it to happen to anyone else – he was stopping himself from being that hero and doing what came naturally to him by waiting for destiny, for “KEVIN”, to turn him into that hero. Pat is a romantic, an ends of the Earth, crawl to you baby, we’ve only got each other kind of man. But he ignored that, to win fights and arguments, to keep his wife satisfied, to have a Porsche. As much as an oxymoron as this is, I think it’s SO easy to ignore what comes naturally to us, and I think JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a small little film about that small little question, and it doesnt’ give a clear answer because there is no clear answer. But it’s funny, it hurts, it’s real it’ll get you thinking.