But Why Jeff?
Don’t be fooled by the title. With Jeff, Who Lives at Home — yes, with a comma *sigh* — Duplass brothers Jay and Mark of mumblecore fame have made their least mumblecore-esque and most just-plain-basic-indie-quirky film yet. Those with a very low tolerance for indie quirk may find their patience tried, but I, who have been mixed on the Duplasses and really hated their last film, the similarly themed Cyrus, kinda couldn’t help being charmed by this one. Even though it stars Jason Segal, of whom I have not been a fan, and even though its raison d’être is one that has, in the past, really gotten my blood boiling.
For this is the tale of justifying the layabout, directionless existence of thirtysomething good-for-nothing Jeff (Segal: Bad Teacher, Gulliver’s Travels), who lives at home, and cannot be bothered to do a single damn even minimally useful thing with his day unless his poor mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Solitary Man), nags him endlessly to do it. (We’re talking a simple household chore here, not even the acquiring of a job, friends, or an independent adult existence). This day-in-the-life story opens with Jeff receiving a wrong-number phone call from someone looking for “Kevin,” which sets the childlike Jeff off on a quest to follow all the Kevin-ish coinky-dink clues he might stumble across, to whatever end they might lead him to. Oh, it’s not that Jeff deliberately seeks out those clues: they just get tossed in his path, all fate-like wise.
I’m sounding snarky — I don’t mean to. Jeff is a fan of the film Signs, you see, which also posited a deep meaning in the everyday and in chance happenstance, but where that film is problematic with its destiny-mongering, Jeff somehow manages to be appealing. Even if that has nothing to do with the coincidence theme. Part of why Jeff works is thanks to the contrast with Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms: The Hangover Part II, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard), who is ostensibly following the grownup path and yet still ends up being what can only be called a colossal dick to his wife, Linda (Judy Greer: The Descendants, Marmaduke). Pat’s behavior is not excusable, but it does at least say that simply doing what is expected of you isn’t enough. But mostly it’s because of Sharon’s subplot (and a bit of Linda’s), which highlights a fact that far too few movies even bother to broach: that the disaffection with ordinary life and the desire for adventure, excitement, and romance that the typical cinematic manchild embraces is not limited to cinematic manchildren. Everyone wishes for more than they have. That Jeff gets this simple yet overlooked truth makes me wonder why it didn’t bother telling the tales of Sharon and Linda, which would have been much fresher, rather than giving us yet another young(ish) man who refuses to grow up, and finds vindication in his choice in a way that, it must be sadly said, the women do not.
Jeff is worth seeing. It is. It’s sweet and amusing even given the fact that it glimpses a more inclusive direction for cinematic storytelling and still shies away from it. And yet it ends up making you wish it realized its own potential to be truly original instead of going down a well-trod path, no matter how well it walks the walk.