Sometimes making an enjoyable film is as simple as gathering together a few recognizable actors, throwing together a vaguely existential, yet sweetly honest script and a healthy dose of handheld camera action. At least, that is how the Duplass brothers make filmmaking seem with their standout dark comedy Jeff, Who Lives At Home. Placing much of its conceptual development in the notion that "things happen for a reason," the film is a welcoming ride of ups and so-so many downs between a family still grasping for their identity even into adulthood and old age. Profound and revolutionary are not words I would ever toss at this film to describe its nature, but I would say that it hits its point with accuracy and wit. Similar to their previous film Cyrus, this duo of directors have resuscitated independent filmmaking for me, something I have already said, but feel wholly obliged to remind my small readership. The beauty of this film is that nothing is overdone, the acting is surprising restrained considering it is full of notably comedic actors, particularly Ed Helms who manages to make his loud method of acting work perfectly as a man flailing through his own disillusion. Furthermore, the filmic narrative resides in the frame of a single day making the interconnectedness of each occurrence that much more meaningful and interesting. While their visions of films clearly do not adhere to the norms of Hollywood tradition, the Duplass method of filmmaking is realized and seems assured to provide a ponderous and enjoyable movie. Not to mention the film is set in Louisiana, always adding a degree of coolness to a film, even one such like this film.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home, as you might imagine does deal with a man named Jeff (Jason Segal) who still lives in his mothers basement. While we are introduced to Jeff breaking the fourth wall and explaining the profound brilliance of the horror thriller Signs, it becomes evident that it is by no means entirely his story. Along with Jeff is his brother Pat (Ed Helms) who desires so greatly to be and look successful that he uses his meager wages to buy an outdated Porsche, something that pushes his fiancé Linda (Judy Greer) over the edge, leading to her leaving him in frustration. Along with this, there is Jeff and Pat's mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) who is going through the motions of her dead end job and desires longingly to escape to a waterfall paradise. Jeff moves through the film on a drug-fueled quest to find a man named Kevin, which leads to his eventual mugging and accidental meeting up with Pat, who himself is out escaping the feelings of despair, a result of Linda's leaving. The two end up joining together on a quest to both find the elusive Kevin and for Pat to rekindle his relationship with Linda. Meanwhile, Sharon becomes the point of affection for a secret admirer at her work, something she latches onto with joy. However, as the narrative flows each comes to a realization that the thing they desire is unlikely to manifest it in the manner they would like, Jeff cannot find a quantifiable existence to Kevin, Pat realizes the Linda may be seeing another man and Sharon comes to realize that her ideals about her crush may not be anything she imagined. Ultimately, the three meet up in a climactic bridge scene that has each of them redeem themselves, most importantly Jeff who seeks validation for his rather desultory life, manages to undertake a heroic action that makes him respected to the rest of his family. It should be noted that the entire narrative is advanced by a simple task of needing to purchase wood glue.
The clear point of commentary within Jeff, Who Lives At Home is the lack of patriarchal intervention throughout the narrative. Like Cyrus, the film focuses on a family still struggling from the lack of a paternal, or masculine, figure within their lives. Sharon, as well as her two sons, make note of how difficult a lack of father proves to be in their daily lives, particularly Jeff who makes it the sole factor into his seemingly ineffectual lifestyle. However, what the Duplass brothers suggest in their film is that the emergence of a father figure is not only unnecessary, but completely illogical. Each character comes to their own personal realizations that their lives are completely their own, not to be oppressed by an unseen masculine figure who has clearly negatively affected their lives. Jeff, who already relates to the feminine, as is clear in his monologue on Signs, manages to find a means to be heroic without asserting masculinity on a continual basis, while Pat learns to distance himself from the assumed notion that male dominance is understood and that the question of a female partner is not only acceptable, but ideal for a healthy relationship. More importantly, without giving away the plot, Sharon also realizes the the void in her life does not need to be replaced by a male figure and she manages in an almost magical realist moment to come to terms with her own identity and self worth. I know nothing about the Duplass Brothers personal lives, but I would venture to say that the amount of honesty in each of their works suggests that they may well have experienced many of the films moments in their own realities.
Key Scene: It involves lots and lots of running.
While I could sing the praises of Jeff, Who Lives At Home for hours, I am aware that it is by no means a must-own film. In fact, I would fully suggest renting the film and enjoying it, because it is a great example of what indie film could and should be at this time in filmmaking. Also the Michael Andrews soundtrack is perfect.