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Jeff Who Lives At Home
Tue, 20 Mar 2012
By Matt Patches
Jay and Mark Duplass broke into the movie-making scene as part of the lo-fi movement dubbed "mumblecore." Films like The Puffy Chair and Baghead kept the action intimate, the situations low-key and the dialogue off-the-cuff. As they stretched their wings and continued to evolve, as with 2010's Jonah Hill/John C. Riley-starring Cyrus, their roots were always planted firmly in the grit of realism.
Their latest, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is their most successful attempt to blend mumblecore sensibilities with mainstream techniques. The production value is amped up, but the situation is still pleasantly simplistic; Jeff (Jason Segel) is a manchild, settled in his mother's basement, but with plenty of introspection, existential thought and marijuana to get him through his days. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) is a retail pawn, too obsessed with owning a Porsche to see that his marriage to Linda (Judy Greer) is crumbling. Sharon, their mother with the basement, is in her own rut. Still grieving after the loss of her husband, Sharon's cubicle existence is shaken when an instant message from a secret admirer pops up on her computer.
ALTThe Duplass Brothers, who also wrote Jeff, weave their three story threads together smoothly, thanks to a tremendous amount of heart the duo slathers on liberally. Jeff, obsessed with the interconnectivity of the world (an idea sparked, of course, by M. Night Shyamalan's Signs), embarks on a journey to retrieve wood glue, eventually sidetracked by a kid named Kevin—who he believes is part of a greater plan. His adventure eventually (and expectedly) crosses paths with Pat, who sees his brother Jeff as nuisance and the worst kind of burnout. Together, they track Linda—who may or may not be having an affair—and help each other to reflect on what the heck is wrong with both of them.
Much like their directing counterparts, Segel and Helms too have been carving out their own unique identities in Hollywood, each with blockbuster projects in 2011 (The Muppets and Hangover II, respectively). But Jeff, Who Lives at Home is easily the best work either have done on the big screen, performances stripped of caricature or over-the-top behavior that are still wickedly funny. Helms, with his straight-out-of-suburbia goatee, captures the complications in trying to live that "perfect life," while Segel never settles for Jeff being a big-dreaming stoner stereotype. Their dynamic as they navigate the streets of Baton Rogue is always charming, always troubling and always twisted. These two guys feel like brothers—a layered relationship that takes more than a written explanation to establish.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn't perfect—the movie wanders along as an enjoyably simple character story before blowing up with Hollywood scope in the last stretch of the race—but the real treat is watching a spot-on cast do their thing for 90 minutes. The warm and fuzzy feeling rarely comes along these days, and two watch Segel and Helms deliver it with such gravitas is a gift. Or a sign?
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