Jeff Who Lives At Home
Like any self-respecting 30 year old living in his mum’s basement, Jeff (Segel) is obsessed with the film Signs. Convinced that its central message – that everything in this world is interconnected and NOT (as we thought) that aliens really need to do their research before staging an invasion – offers true enlightenment, he spends his days waiting for the universe to deliver his fate, smoking weed and forgetting to talk when he answers the phone. After all, he doesn’t want to go the way of his desperately frustrated, middle-management sinking brother Pat (Helms), or his permanently stressed mother Sharon; neither of whom have been particularly close to Jeff since the death of his father some years ago. After getting a wrong number from a bloke named Kevin, Jeff becomes convinced that his fate is inexorably tied with the name – and so begins a very long day, a day that will see him re-connect with his brother, stalk a young basketball player, attempt to foil some potential adultery and smoke a lot of that weed we mentioned. Obviously.
Those who enjoyed the Duplass brothers’ last film Cyrus will find more of the same in Jeff, Who Lives At Home – a gentle comedy slightly hindered by a desire to celebrate the delicate nuance stuff as well as creating a sweeping message about life and all that. Segel is lovely as the open-hearted Jeff; a man who is all too aware that his life is slipping away, but who cannot help but hope that his eureka moment is just around the corner. The contrast between his point of view and that of his brother Pat – a pointy, haggard and glorious Ed Helms – makes for the real stand-out comedy moments, as both bicker about the correct way to deal with the possibility that Pat’s wife Linda might be having an affair. “Can’t you just talk to her?” asks Jeff quietly, “you have NO IDEA how to deal with adult relationships,” Pat snaps back, as they both spy on her from a nearby bush.
Susan Sarandon spends the film mainly having reassuringly nice hair in a story of her own; trying to unravel a mystery involving an office-based secret admirer. She occasionally yells at her sons over the phone in order to remind everyone that they’re all part of the same film, but considering the constantly intertwining fates of her two sons her strand does feel a little half-baked; as though the writers weren’t quite able to solve the problem of a character who has to spend the entire running time confined to an office.
The decision to have the entire story take place over a single day also hurts just as much as it adds to the narrative – although it’s quite satisfying stylistically it does mean that the characters are forced to rush their emotional growth, coming to terms with years of bitterness, decades of repression and base personality clashes within the space of about five hours. Add that to a story already struggling to balance poking fun at its naively hopeful lead whilst constantly throwing up infuriatingly convenient coincidences that absolutely justify his behaviour, and you have a perfectly friendly but slightly irritating mess. With the hours ticking away and no naturalistic way out of their increasingly silly situations, the characters are forced to twist their initial likable banality towards a strange collective madness in the rush towards a slightly forced, faux-exhilarating conclusion.
Ultimately, without the heart-bursting feel-good factor of something like Little Miss Sunshine and lacking the delicacy of indie comedies such as Submarine, Jeff, Who Lives At Home hovers somewhere in the middle, attempting to revel in both life’s small irritations as well as its ability to, like, be all cuddly and magic and stuff. By the end, as the entire family celebrates achievements both saccharinely small and eye-rollingly large, you can’t help but feel like that in covering all their bases, the Duplass brothers have somewhat compromised the natural charm of their tale and instead created something that feels a little stilted. Just let it flow, guys. Let the story flow and the universe take its course – didn’t you learn anything from Jeff?