Jeff Who Lives at Home (2011)

Jeff Who Lives at Home (USA) Directed by Mark Duplass; Jay Duplass  Written by Mark Duplass; Jay Duplass  Starring Ed Helms; Jason Segal; Susan Sarandon; Judy Greer; Rae Dawn Chong; Steve Zissis; Evan Ross

As The Duplass brothers work with bigger budgets and higher profile actors they are beginning to explore genre constructs by melding them into an overall personal aesthetic honed making DYI films. Cyrus, and now their latest, Jeff Who Lives at Home, are both examples of films made by filmmakers who are progressing, gaining control over their chosen medium with a previously unseen fluidity.

To date the Duplass Brothers’ films are essentially about relationships - between friends; siblings; husbands and wives; girlfriends and boyfriends - and always there is social awkwardness in the mix. With Jeff, there are perhaps less cringe inducing moments (or at least they are delivered with less emphasized tension), and in their place is a kind of whimsical overriding theme having to do with fate that PT Anderson (and any number of sci-fi and romantic comedies) might be proud of.

Taking place in the course of one day, Jeff is a nicely self-contained piece that admirably recognizes its own limitations and does not attempt to exceed them. Despite the natural gentle philosophizing that goes along with the titular Jeff’s (Jason Segel) quest to follow his destined path, The Brothers restrain themselves from allowing the characters to wax overly poetic about the mysteries of life and the universe.

Jeff is a floundering thirty year old man-child stoner who lives in the basement of his Mom Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) house. Sans a life plan, a relationship, or (seemingly) a job, a series of events, beginning with a random phone call, starts him on a path to what he begins to suspect is a course he is beholden to follow. Along the way he comes in contact with his not so nice older brother Pat (Ed Helms), whose marriage to Linda (Judy Greer) is already in serious trouble when he informs her of a just purchased Porsche they cannot afford.

Several times during the film Jeff communicates with Mom Sharon as she attempts to go about her work day, though her attentions are turned when she begins receiving instant messages from a secret admirer. The sixty-five year old Sarandon classes up the proceedings as an older woman living the same kind of mundane, average existence as her two sons, who she confesses at one point to not liking very much lately.

While the visuals are slowly getting better, The Brothers are still relying a little too heavily on signature shaky hand-helds, replete with that twitchy re-framing device. There is nothing wrong with a verite methodology on the surface, though by the now their specific shooting technique has become commonplace, and it’s debatable how necessary the tics are in order convey their intended vibe.

There is a farcical element to Jeff’s quest, and especially the conclusion, that leaves the film resting in an odd place between realism and fantasy, but perhaps that’s the point. Jeff is funny and dramatic in places and the slacker lead’s overall thought process and approach to his quest certainly contains a wealth of applicable Zen-like philosophy. More than anything Jeff further demonstrates that The Duplass Brothers are unafraid of something that scares some of the best filmmakers working today - sincerity.

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