Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Movie Review: Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Director: The Duplass Brothers: Jay and Mark Duplass

Reviewed: 16 March 2012

jamesintexas rating--***1/2 (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

A moving film, with a moving lead performance by Jason Segal, Jeff, Who Lives At Home keeps a narrow focus on Susan Sarandon as Sharon, the mom of two adult children, the eponymous Jeff (Jason Segal), a bong-hitting, Signs-obsessed basement dweller and Pat (Ed Helms), the driven, mean older brother who wants a Porsche and fails to see his crumbling marriage. Judy Greer is in a supporting role as Linda, Pat's neglected wife; Rae Dawn Chong also appears as Carol, Sharon's co-worker. The film focuses on these characters in the city of Lafayette, LA over the course of a single day, and the narrowness of focus is one of the film's many strengths.

In a way, the film is a study in grief, sketching out how the different family members deal with the loss of the father. Jeff seems a Lebowski-like disciple of reading signs in the world: a wrong phone call, a name that seems to have other meaning, a journey in the city turning into something greater, something deeper. Pat seems lost in himself, ignoring his wife, focusing on buying the Porsche, an ultimate symbol of achievement while not being able to afford it. Sharon stares at her picture of a waterfall at her desk in an office, frustrated with her two adult children and wishing for more for herself.

Jeff, Who Lives At Home, for me, exists as a study in flow. The Duplass brothers capture this at many times in the film, but in particular during an early basketball game where Jeff, who up until now has seemed schlubby and tentative, takes control and seems sure of himself, firing passes to other players, scoring at will. His brother Pat tries to exist in a state of flow, driving the Porsche at top speeds, showing it off to disastrous results. Instant messages disrupt the flow of Sharon's work day as she seems to have a secret admirer. There's movement in cars, busses, and water in this film, as well as Jeff's idea that you are put in the right place at the right time. The flow in Pat and Linda's marriage is stuck. A walking journey flows Pat and Jeff to the cemetery where their father is buried. A third act conflict fits naturally in with these concerns with both brothers having to make very real choices, as well as disrupt or become part of the flow around them.

I'm sounding esoteric and strange, but this film dealt with many of these deeply philosophical issues with tenderness and heart. Segal is winning and carries the movie quietly, while Helms is as unlikable as I've ever seen him. His desperation for an anchor, for anything to hold onto mid-way through the film is believable. Sarandon captures Sharon's quiet desperation perfectly. I like how it engaged the idea of being in the right place at the right time in a serious way. When a person lives their life looking for signs or believing that there are things pointing them in the right direction, is that both naive and freeing? Who has not ever experienced the serendipity of running into someone at the right time and wondered about fate, the universe, and control?

A word about the Duplass brothers' style: I'm not sure if I love the technique of zooming in on a character's face to show emotion constantly. It was distracting at points. There really was not a lot of music, and characters are treated warmly despite their flaws. Segal and Helms are a funny pairing, physically, heightened in a great scene in a hotel bathtub with both of them sitting with their legs sticking out. There's humor and delight in watching Segal tiptoe around or hide behind a candy machine in a hotel hallway. I've rated this movie 3 1/2 stars because I think it wrestling with some very deep ideas, and the last 15 minutes achieve a very coincidental climax for all characters involved. I was not a giant fan of Cyrus, their previous film, but I really enjoyed Jeff, Who Lives At Home, down to its final image, as well as its title: everything in its right place.

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