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.

Here’s a trailer:

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

Even if you live at home, you can share this review. And if your name is Kevin? Share it twice.

Share

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed, while burdened with a far too cute genesis and production history, is adorable and ultimately a wonderful film. Everyone should see this clever, heartfelt, almost brilliant film.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released October 18, 2012

Written by Derek Connolly

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Karan Soni, and Jeff Garlin

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Darius (Plaza) is working as an intern at a Seattle magazine after struggling to find work. She seems to feel a disconnect from the world around her. One of the magazine’s writers, Jeff (Johnson), suggests that the magazine do a feature on a strange ad that he’d found in which the ad poster seeks a partner for some time travel. The magazine’s editor sends Jeff and Darius, along with Arnau (Soni), to the smallish town where the ad originated.

They track down Kenneth (Duplass), the man who posted the ad, and Darius is selected to make contact with him. Darius and Kenneth hit it off well, while at the same time Jeff, who apparently used to vacation in this town as a youth, tracks down an old flame, dragging Arnau along sometimes.

Kenneth and Darius’ relationship develops into a close friendship, and then, of course, romance, as they prepare to go back in time. Kenneth refuses to show Darius the machine he’s going to use to transport them, but he assures her it is real. They even raid a science lab for equipment for the machine.

So we have a few relationships that the story follows: the rather adorable one between Darius and Kenneth, Jeff’s odd relationship with his old flame, and Jeff and Arnau’s somewhat ‘mentor/student’ relationship.

Add to all of this the possibility that Kenneth might actually be onto something, that Darius never told him that she was doing a story on him, and hat Kenneth might have government agents following him– and  you have some nice conflict.

All of which leads to a rather unexpected climax and resolution.

Critique

The premise is a little cute and precious, but it has been developed quite well and it also helps that the actors turn in some very good performances.

Darius is maybe a little too convenient with her incredibly clever dialogue, but Aubrey Plaza pulls the character off convincingly, showing us a Darius who longs for something different and outside the normal, expected world.

Duplass turns in a straightforward performance. There is no tongue in cheek and this very odd character is not morphed into a goofball or caricature. Duplass keeps Kenneth accessible and quite pleasant. This kind of guy might actually live down the road from many of us.

Jeff’s rank selfishness grates and we want him to redeem himself. Arnau is perhaps too naive. Some of the other characters are somewhat convenient.

But the adorableness and heart of Safety Not Guaranteed makes it easy to overlook these issues and just let yourself be carried by the sweetness between Kenneth and Darius.

And the ending is exactly right on.

Content warnings: Language, some sexual content

Writing: 4           Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

I cannot guarantee your safety if you choose not to share this review on every social network you have. Make the safe choice: Click ‘Share.’

Share