Music Feature

Film Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

by Piers Marchant
A stoned slacker seeks his destiny.

Dir. Jay & Mark Duplass
Score: 6.2

If Jason Segel has one singular talent as an actor, it's his ability to embody several different edges all at once. When he played a young, befuddled high schooler in the beloved TV series "Freaks & Geeks," his character evolved from a perpetually stoned good-time boy into a slightly too intense, off-kilter inveterate, increasingly unable to communicate what he felt inside. Not surprisingly, he is equally adept portraying slick, no-rules rogues and shlubby outsiders. In this way, his shuffling slacker shamble would obviously pair well with the Duplass brothers' patented blend of formless narrative and post-mumblecore insouciance, so it's no surprise to see him fitting so well into the freewheeling ethos of their latest film.

Segal plays the titular character, who does, in fact, live in his mother's Baton Rouge basement, getting stoned, eating snacks and desperately trying to decipher his destiny. A heartfelt acolyte of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, Jeff tries to stay open to patterns and coincidences, solving the riddles as he ambles through his life. His brother Pat (Ed Helms, sporting an evil-twin goatee), on the other hand, has issues of an entirely different nature. Impetuous and mincing, he belittles his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), and impulsively acts out of supreme selfishness -- as we meet the struggling couple, he's trying to break the news to her that he took the money they were saving for a house and bought a Porsche instead. The two boys are overseen by their bedraggled mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who spends her day working listlessly in her office until a secret admirer makes their presence felt in her cubicle. The three members of the family spend this remarkable day each following their individual destinies until they all happen to converge together at once.

The Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, have a way of teasing out the complexity in their characters, even as they act out of a seemingly never-ending series of idiocies. Jeff, for all his stoned quasi-metaphysics, is actually just a sweet-minded and egoless fellow, convinced for all the world that the universe works from a sweetly familiar road map; Pat, confronted with the distinct possibility of his wife having an affair, finally breaks through his incessant put-downs and petulant interruptions to actually hear what people are trying to say to him; meanwhile Sharon is forced into actually believing in forces beyond her immediate understanding. As a comedy, the movie moves easily through its shaggy-dog-ness, creating a simplified world in which all things happen at once. If there's a deeper message, as the ending of film would seem to suggest, it's not exactly hard-earned, but, in a way, there's something entirely fitting about that.

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