thu 27/02/2020

Jeff, Who Lives at Home | reviews, news & interviews

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

The Duplass brothers revisit male dysfunction

Brother, where art thou? Jason Segel and Ed Helms in 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home'

It’s maybe one for their shrink. The filmmaking Duplass brothers are irresistibly drawn to male losers still clinging to the apron strings. In Cyrus Jonah Hill played an overgrown mommy’s boy in the grip of an oedipal love-in who fights off his single mother’s new man like a fat hellcat. In Jeff, Who Lives at Home things have moved on, though not in an evolutionary sense. Jeff (Jason Segel) may be a good decade older than Cyrus but developmentally he’s not much further down the track.

A lumbering work-shy 30-year-old stoner who hangs, to be specific, in his mother’s basement in Baton Rouge, he is actually more at home a fantasy world of his own making. His favourite film, his urtext, is M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, as he divulges to his audio diary while parked on the can. The morning we meet him – the film’s events are over before nightfall – Jeff fields a wrong number from someone asking angrily for a Kevin, sending him on a series of false trails involving random sightings of the same name. It doesn’t initially seem such a good way to live. He locks onto a dude with Kevin stencilled on his basketball top, and is soon shooting hoops and smoking weed with him, only to get promptly mugged.

The script’s funniest moment involves a technical debate about the science of barging down doors

Compare and contrast with his directional older brother. Pat (Ed Helms) has accelerated into normalcy. He has the job, the wife (Judy Greer) and, as of the morning we join both brothers, the brand new Porsche on HP, although not yet the house they are scrimping for. The car is no sooner wiped clean of the breakfast Linda has angrily dumped on the bonnet than Pat has picked up Jeff off the street. In an effort to demonstrate the car’s braking power, Pat rapidly wraps the new hire purchase round a sturdy tree. His day goes into further freefall when he and Jeff spot Linda across the street getting into a strange man’s car.

Meanwhile in her office job their widowed mother (Susan Sarandon, pictured below) is being pursued on the office internal messenger by a mystery admirer, bringing a small glow into a life defined by domestic drudgery and her office’s partition walls. In one lovely scene she flirts at the water cooler with a co-worker who embarrassingly turns out not to be her furtive fan.

So this is the story of three disconnected souls who all happen to be in the same family. In other hands it might all be pretty hatchet-faced and navel-gazing, but for Jay and Mark Duplass, who jointly write and direct, the roadmap is always leading them to the next gag. The brothers’ footling quest to unravel the truth of Linda’s perfidy leads them from a fancy restaurant to a seedy motel, with Pat enlisting Jeff to do his dirty detective work. The script’s funniest moment involves a technical debate about the science  of barging down doors: can Jeff still get up any momentum if in his run-up down the corridor he has to turn through 90 degrees at the last minute?

The Duplasses get to the truth of a comedic situation far more organically than they do to deeper emotional stuff. Yes, the brothers’ worldviews initially clash: Jeff’s take on a bad situation sounds to Pat “like Yoda took acid”. But as the day meanders on Pat is inevitably soon man enough to admit the emptiness of his life and listen to Jeff’s advice, while the passive Jeff gets his chance to be a man of action.

There is no faulting the performances. Segel and Helms both delightfully flesh out their roles, and when she finds out who her admirer is, Sarandon submits to a kiss with charming uncertainty. But without giving anything away, in every plotline the Duplass brothers follow the sign marked fantasy wish-fulfilment. In the end Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a pleasing but slight comedy which stumbles in the final reel only because it buys too easily into the infantilising film-school concept of third-act redemption. That shrink would tell them life isn't quite so pat.

Watch the trailer to Jeff, Who Lives at Home

The Duplasses get to the truth of a comedic situation far more organically than they do to deeper emotional stuff

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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