Jeff, Who Lives at Home Review

(1.5 STARS)

Jay and Mark Duplass have built careers upon stories like that in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Their most mainstream effort to date is based on a slacker, Jeff, who’s wandering aimlessly through life while he waits for some kind of cosmic direction. It’s vintage Duplass and only different from Baghead or Cyrus because it features bigger names and slicker production values.

It also differs from the duo’s last two features because it’s bad. And it’s not as if either of those films are modern masterpieces; They’re goofy romps with some dark overtones bubbbling under the surface. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is fitfully humorous, but sloppily constructed and, at a slim 83 minutes, longer than it ought to be. Things happen in this film that simply don’t belong in this film, yet this misplaced material is, ironically, the best Jeff, Who Lives at Home has to offer. If that’s not a sign of a big misfire, I don’t know what is.

Jason Segel plays the titular character, who spends his day smoking weed and contemplating deeper meanings in M. Night Shymalan’s Signs. It’s only after his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), begs him, as a birthday present to her, to pick up some wood glue at the store that he ventures out of her basement, but before he does, he gets a call from an angry man looking to speak to Kevin. Who’s Kevin? Jeff doesn’t know, but the wrong number eats at him and seems to haunt him throughout the day.

Jeff’s brother is Pat (Ed Helms), a salesman married to Linda (Judy Greer). During a business lunch, Pat runs into Jeff and takes him in a ride in his new Porsche. He drives like an asshole, however, and crashes it into a tree. While Pat deals with the couple who’s yard he’s nearly destroyed, Jeff catches a glimpse of Linda riding in the passenger seat of another man’s car. He lets his brother know what he sees and what his suspicions are, and the two spend the rest of the afternoon tailing her.

There’s a C-plot running through Jeff, Who Lives at Home that involves Sharon and a mysterious instant message she gets from an office secret admirer. This is actually compelling material that leads somewhere interesting. But Sharon isn’t given nearly enough time to help this story elevate the film as a whole. On the contrary, her quest turns into a distraction because the Duplass Brothers disrupt the A- and B-plots at key points and only connect Sharon’s story with Jeff and Pat’s during the film’s preposterous conclusion.

Pat’s attempts to catch his wife cheating are uncomfortable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t really blame her for wanting to. Pat’s just an idiot. He constantly berates Jeff for never amounting to anything (Hello, pot. Have you met my friend, kettle?), and he’s quite condescending toward Linda. Again, it’s Sharon who’s the voice of reason when she comments to a coworker that her sons are constant sources of stress, frustration, and disappointment. Jeff accepts that role; Pat is completely delusional.

Jeff, though, is the film’s title character and does extremely little—and certainly nothing interesting—for three quarters of the film, at which point fate finally decides to deal him a card worth playing. Credit the film for going into high gear, I guess, but it’s done in such a stupid way that you really don’t give a fuck. There’s something oddly life-affirming about what transpires, but neither the film nor any of its characters earns such a moment. Injecting it into the film feels cheap and ends Jeff, Who Lives at Home on a bizarre and wholly unsatisfying note.

Hopefully, this is just an uncharacteristic speed bump on the way to bigger and better things for the Duplass Brothers. Mark has already found his way out of my dog house with a great performance in Safety Not Guaranteed, and the two have The Do-Deca Pentathlon coming out later this summer, which looks promising. Clearly, the two filmmakers are in demand, as evidenced by the quick leap from “mumblecore” to mainstream. Maybe it was too quick a leap, though, because Jeff, Who Lives at Home is close to a disaster. It won’t be 2012’s worst movie (it can’t be, thanks to Battleship), but a slot on my bottom 10 definitely isn’t out of the question.

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