Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a wonderful, funny, heartfelt fantasy that feels like reality because the characters are so warm and personable.

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The deets:

Released May 11, 2012

Written by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Starring Susan Sarandon, Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Rae Dawn Chong, Judy Greer, Steve Zissis, and Evan Ross

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Jeff (Segel) is 30 years old and lives in his mother’s basement. He believes that everybody and everything in the universe is connected and that everything happens for a purpose. He asks a question early on that defines his day and this movie, “What if there are no wrong numbers?”

Jeff’s brother, Pat (Helms), seems to have a job at a place called Poplar Paint, but we never see him there. He has an unsatisfying marriage with Linda (Greer) and they both admit that their marriage is in trouble. This might be mostly Pat’s fault, as he is continually seeking things that make him feel he has accomplished more in his life than he really has. For instance, he and his wife are barely scraping by, but he buys a Porsche.

Jeff and Pat’s widowed mother, Sharon (Sarandon), works in a cubicle and is fed up with her sons. She is isolated and so she is taken way aback when she suddenly has a secret admirer at her job.

Sharon has asked Jeff to get off his sedentary butt and fix the shutter, giving him money to go buy some wood glue. We never really learn why Jeff lives at home and why he seems so resistant to going outside. We do know that he watches Signs several times a day and that he is expecting the world to give him a sign of some kind for what his destiny might be.

When Jeff gets a phone call asking for Kevin, ostensibly a wrong number, he feels that the universe might have just given him a sign. Finally convinced that he should go buy wood glue, he heads out and soon sees a kid with the name Kevin on his shirt. This starts him on a journey of what others might see as coincidence but that for Jeff is simply the opening up to him of his destiny.

Jeff soon runs into Pat and we see that Pat thinks very little of his seemingly lazy, aimless brother. Pat’s problems with his wife, Karen, get worse as these brothers spend their day together, trying to figure out what is going on.

At the same time, Sharon and her friend Carol (Chong) discuss Sharon’s secret admirer, with somewhat unexpected results that help Sharon realize that living a life of joy is more of a choice than a result of the universe’s efforts.

The journey Jeff and Pat are on at times is a little madcap, at other times dramatic, and at other times quietly introspective. Everything comes together as Sharon and Pat both decide that finding love and happiness is a matter of choice and overcoming fear– and Jeff finds what he decides must be his destiny, although the audience understands that his destiny was to help his family be happy.

Critique

Jeff, Who Lives at Home would have been a waste of celluloid and money if not for the impressive performances of Sarandon, Chong, Greer, Helms, and particularly Jason Segel. There’s no winking at the audience by the performers or the writers/directors. This story is to be taken on its face, not as a parable, allegory, or fantastical absurdism. This approach works because Jason Segel captures Jeff’s simple purpose in each moment of screen time. You get the feeling that the part was written for Segel.

Seriously, this is a simple film that isn’t trying to preach a message of carefree, chill-out living. Instead, the Duplass brothers created a unique character in Jeff and simply explored what this day would be like if he were to follow his desire to find his destiny in a world populated by his unhappy brother and mother.

Thus, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is very much a character and dialogue-driven movie. What action there is happens simply because the characters made a choice that led them to sometimes dangerous results. There are moments of hilarity, quiet warmth and wisdom, and excellent honesty. It’s a marvelous thing to see the characters come to understandings in the moment of open, honest communication; you almost feel as if the Duplass brothers discovered these truths at the same time that they were writing the dialogue.

Watch this movie. It will take less than 90 minutes of your time and you will be left with a deep feeling of tenderness for these people.

Content warnings: Some salty language and very minor violence.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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The Muppets

I saw The Muppets with two of my many progeny. I enjoyed it a lot more than they did, but they still loved it.

Here’s a preview:

Some deets:

Released November 23, 2011

Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (characters by Jim Henson)

Directed by James Bobin

Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo, Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Peter Linz, and all the Muppets

*     *     *     *     *

The Muppets is a nostalgic, fun, innocent, intelligently self-aware return to form for our fine, felt friends. Those who grew up with the Muppets will probably love this new movie more than today’s kids will, but hopefully this is the beginning of a resurgence of the smartly written, pop-satirical group of fuzzy puppets.

Story

The story begins with two lovebirds, Gary and Mary, played respectively by Segel and Adams, planning their life together. Gary has a Muppet named Walter, voiced by Linz, as a younger brother. We can assume he’s adopted.

Gary and Mary want to take a vacation together, mostly because Gary loves Mary and Mary wants Gary to have a life outside of his relationship with Walter. She doesn’t dislike Walter, but she clearly would like to have a more intimate relationship (emotionally intimate, you gutter-minds!) with the sometimes clueless Gary. Gary, remember he’s clueless, invites Walter along and Mary can’t say no. Because she’s kind and loves Gary.

Walter learned a while back that he had something in common with a group of performers called the Muppets who had a fabulous TV show years ago. He idolizes them, Kermit especially. So when the vacation takes the trio to Los Angeles, he convinces Gary and Mary to visit the old Muppet Playhouse. It’s in ruins and is about to revert ownership to a wicked oil tycoon played by Chris Cooper. This tycoon, called Tex Richman (yep), knows there’s oil under the old playhouse and he plans to raze it and make more money.

Walter finds out about this plan and sets into motion a reunion of the Muppets so they can take back their playhouse and rekindle the magic of their old show and glory. They need to raise $10 million.

Add to this major plot line the story of two humans who are in love but have to find a way to communicate honestly. Add to all of that some truly wonderful songs, excellent set-pieces, fabulously funny dialogue, and you have a really entertaining film.

Critique

The Muppets is a winner from the get-go. With “Life’s a Happy Song” the opening musical number, you know you’re in for a cynicism-free joyride, emphasis on the ‘joy.’ The old and wonderful subversive satire is there in full-force, with great pop-culture references followed by digs at greedy corporations followed by hilarious irony.

What’s particularly effective is the sequence that follows the gathering up of major Muppets from their lives that they found after the old show was cancelled. Gonzo, hilariously, is wealthy, and Fozzy is playing with a tribute band. Piggy, well, you should just watch it.

The entire thing is so entertaining because it’s grounded in absurdism, knows perfectly well that felt critters don’t really live amongst humans but why not act like they do? and it never for a moment takes itself seriously. Then you have great character arcs, fearless performances by all the live actors, despite a rather icky rap by Chris Cooper, an engaging story, and a very nice rekindling of the love between Piggy and Kermit.

The voice talent is also only slightly recognizable as different from the original voices for many of these beloved Muppet characters.

“Life’s a Happy Song” should win the Oscar for best song. This movie should be up for best film, in place of The Descendants.

Content warnings: None except for some Muppet-level edginess.

Writing: 4.5           Acting: 4.5            Overall: 4.5

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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