Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012)
Some stoners have all the answers.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is about a middle-aged slacker named Jeffrey who’s got no job, no girl, and not much going for him outside all the weed he smokes in his mom’s basement. Although what he does have is an outlook on life that he gained from a thorough reading-into of the movie Signs. The outlook goes like this: everyone has their purpose in life, and all we need to do in order to find that purpose is to follow the signs around us. For him, the sign comes from a guy who accidentally phones his house looking for “Kevin.” As it just so happens, the day we meet Jeff also happens to be his mom’s birthday. Her birthday wish: for her son to get out of the house and fix her cabinet in the kitchen. So with the best of intentions, he gets off his ass and heads out into the great beyond. But before he can get to Point B, he finds himself getting sidetracked once “Kevin” starts appearing all around him. Eventually the signs lead him to his estranged brother who’s having the worst day of his life, and as they struggle through their issues with one another, they start to discover what they’ve been looking for all along.
So I’m not sure how this all happened to so quick, but you fine folks are catching me at the peak of a mean Duplass brothers kick right now. First it was Jeff, then I finally got around to crossing Humpday off my Instant queue, then I cruised through the first two season of The League in record time, and THEN I decided to watch The Puffy Chair five hours ago. Folks, I can’t remember the last time I felt so compelled to burn through the works of a film maker the way I have with these two young bloods, and as semi-weird as that may sound, it’s the god’s honest truth. What can I say, it’s been a really fun ride.
But one of the many upsides of watching all these Duplass features is that I’ve gradually come to understand the heart of my fixation and why I keep coming back. If there’s one common theme across all these titles I’ve mentioned, it’s that of self-discovery. These movies tend to be driven by two kinds of people: those who think they’ve found their calling in life, and those who are still looking for it. Nothing all that uncommon, and the same can be said for the circumstances we find them in. But if my undying adoration for Lester Burnham is any indication, this is my kinda theme. For me, that’s a big part of what makes their stories so compelling: the way they go from commonplace to invigorating while remaining universally relatable throughout. Doesn’t hurt that they’re so funny and well-written either.
Now, I’m 25 and happily married, and I’m still searching for that calling in life. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I’m alone on that one, and I think it’d be hard for anyone not to empathize with Jeff in that regard either. As hilarious as it is that his life coach is M. Night Shyamalan, and as easy as it may be to write him off as a burnout man-child with no direction in life, he’s a man-child after my own heart. Even before meeting Jeff, I was a true believer in the notion that we’re all here for a reason and that a big part of living is taking steps to find out what that is. Doesn’t necessarily mean wandering through the projects because that’s where “KEVIN” is, but the fact that he does is what makes him so likable.
I loved the dynamic between him and his brother: a man hellbent on controlling every aspect of his life. I loved the dynamic between him and his mother: a woman who longs for a life that she thinks out of reach. I loved watching Jeff wander from one sign to the next, making believers out of his critics. Ultimately, Jeff is at testament to the perks of letting go and trusting that life will work itself out, and a pleasant reminder to those who’ve lost track of the world around them. Everyone needs that reminder. And once everyone starts drinking Jeff’s Kool-Aid, it’s amazing how this story goes from ordinary to extraordinary. So many magical, everyday moments that will only make you wonder about the life you’ve been missing out on.
It’s surprisingly deep in ways that movies don’t typically get, and in ways I certainly wasn’t expecting to get from this either. Yes, there’s a lot to be gained from Jeff, but there’s a lot to be gained from those around him, too. Talking ’bout some seriously existential shit, yo.
And on top of all that, it’s got an awfully swell cast to boot.
Great to see Ed Helms doing some against-type work for a change as Jeff’s brother, Pat. The whole Andy Bernard thing’s been getting old since The Office refused to end three seasons ago, but it wasn’t until now that I had an overwhelming urge to punch Ed Helms in the face. Gotta say, it’s an awfully refreshing feeling. Didn’t know he had it him, but he does a really good job of acting the prick and looking it, too. Kids, nothing screams “DOUCHE!” like a used car salesman with a Porsche and a goatee. Write that one down.
And speaking of against-type performances, I am all about Judy Greer’s departure from Hollywood’s bin of psycho bitches and her recent arrival as a legitimately good actress. Still getting used to Judy v. 2.0, but when you couple her solid performance in The Descendants with her turn here as Pat’s unhappy wife, you’ve got yourself a gal worth watching. Just a bummer it took so long for her to break out of that shell.
Will also support just about any movie that gives Susan Sarandon a leading role. The woman can do no wrong.
And as for Jason Segel, well, another reason Jeff’s so damn likable is because he’s played by one of the most likable humans on the planet. I keep waiting for the day when I’m gonna tire of Jason Segel, but that day just never seems to come. Even after all the How I Met Your Mother re-runs I’ve sat through, and even though he keeps on playing slight variations of the same-freaking-guy, all I want to do is hang out with the guy. The man’s an anomaly, and frankly, I’m stunned that he’s managed to stay so outrageously endearing for so long without selling out or wearing out. But in spite of how tailor-made he is for the role, he’s fantastic as Jeff. Granted, Jeff was a great character to begin with, but come on, what’s not to like about Jason Segel? Doesn’t bother me in the slightest to have him as my wife’s celebrity crush.
I hadn’t gathered much about this movie before going into it, but I was expecting something a whole lot quirkier and forgettable than what I got. I mean, if it weren’t for Jeff, Who Lives at Home, I never would have gotten into the Duplass brothers to begin with. While that in itself makes it worthy of an 8, there’s just so much here to admire. This is one of the most fulfilling and life-affirming movies I’ve seen all year – a sentiment which resonates that much more when you least expect its arrival. Taking a perfectly mundane premise and turning it into a story that’s larger-than-life is no easy feat, and what the Duplass brothers accomplish by doing just that is something worth writing home about. Long review short: some movies just make you happy.
And you gotta love a movie that scores a montage to the new Beck song.