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Jeff, Who Lives at Home

March 28, 2012
Jeff, Who Lives at Home

There’s a certain kind of movie devoted to the idea that everything is connected, and everything happens for a reason. At first glance, Jeff, Who Lives at Home seems to be one of them — Jeff himself certainly believes it — but it’s not so clear by the end. It’s more realistic than that, and while it has a sweetness, it’s never cloying. It’s awkwardly and absurdly funny, and it earns the optimism it leaves you with by the end.

Jeff (Jason Segel), as you may guess, lives at home with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Jeff lives in the basement, smoking pot and watching tv and movies, looking for clues to his destiny. He’s a big fan of the movie Signs, and the way that small facts turn out to have momentous importance; everything happens for a reason. And if an M. Night Shyamalan movie doesn’t reflect the way the world works, then what does?

Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms), has a much more worldly outlook, though it doesn’t seem to help. His relationship with his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), is terrible; she wants to buy a house and settle down, but he goes to buy a Porsche. When Jeff suggests talking to her honestly, Pat tells him he has no idea how adult relationships work.

A wrong number puts the name “Kevin” into Jeff’s head, sending him careening around Baton Rouge, following his nose. Along the way he bumps into Pat, and they catch sight of Linda and a strange man. Pat imagines she’s having an affair and, really, can you blame her? Meanwhile, Sharon is at her office, mulling over the evidence of a secret admirer with her coworker, Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), and what it means to her at her age.

How these two stories fit together is, I admit, less than clear. They’re both sprawling and haphazard, not so tightly scripted as confluentialist films of the late ’90s like Magnolia or 13 Conversations About One Thing. There are coincidences, and things happen, and at the end of it all Jeff is in the Right Place at the Right Time. But does it mean anything? Jeff would certainly say it does, but it’s really up to your own interpretation. What’s clear is that everyone is muddling through, doing the best that they can.

Segel, Helms, and Sarandon all do an excellent job with all this muddling. Segel is on somewhat familiar ground, but Helms stretches his range while maintaining the level of quality he displayed in Cedar Rapids.

There are no meaty monologues imbued by writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass with Great Meaning. The characters are subtler than that, and each one is made real and believable. There’s a warmth to them, and to the script, that shines through, to the Duplass’ credit in the writing and the cast’s credit in the execution.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the underlying, interconnectedness and meaning of All Things, like Jeff, or whether you think it’s all a projection onto a fundamentally absurd universe of things just happening. Sometimes life just works out happily, and you can’t help but smile a little bit for the rest of the day.

Worth It: definitely.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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