We’ve all known people like the titular character of the Jay and Mark Duplass’ Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Nice guys who mean well, but for whatever reason are going nowhere fast. To be fair, nobody really knows what they want to do with their lives when they’re in their early twenties (if you did, I’m at once envious and doubtful), but by your late twenties you should probably at least have a direction of some kind. Jeff (Jason Segel) has other ideas though.
Pushing 30 years old and still living with his mother (Susan Sarandon), Jeff’s typical day consists waking up late, eating, watching TV, and smoking a generous quantity of marijuana. Rinse. Repeat. However, the film portrays a particularly eventful day in the life of Jeff: his mother has asked him to go to the store to buy some wood glue. Talk about a MacGuffin! Braced by herbal courage and with his quest before him, the intrepid couch potato reluctantly ventures forth into the wilds of suburban Louisiana, and before long begins seeing meaning in the events that befall him. It could be the drugs or it could be fate, but pick-up games of basketball and chance encounters along the way – including one with his brother, Pat (Ed Helms) – quickly turn Jeff’s mundane trip to the store into something much more. An odyssey of… boring proportions!
As a film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home suffers from a few of the same maladies that afflict its main character. At times the film feels like an aimless collection of circumstances and encounters because, well, it is precisely that. In his altered state Jeff is really the only person who can connect the dots on this odd quest of self-discovery, while the audience – much like his brother Pat – is left guessing at the greater meaning of it all. Also, while the film is ostensibly about Jeff’s mid-mid-life crisis, the problems of his mother and brother – a workplace crush and a failing marriage, respectively – are much more central to the plot. After all, how can a guy with no life outside of the house have issues that the average audience would take seriously? It’s hard to sympathize with a character who has no life or prospects entirely due to his own sloth and laziness.
Overall, Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels like a bit of a misstep for Mark and Jay Duplass. Their previous film Cyrus retained the mumblecore aesthetic that the two were instrumental in developing (low/no-budget, no-name actors, improvised dialogue), but in contrast to their earlier work Jeff, Who Lives at Home just feels overly staged and contrived. Perhaps that’s just the fateful nature of Jeff’s journey, where every single thing that happens to him is part of some greater plan, however, part of this feeling could be attributed to the involvement of producer Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Young Adult). Reitman’s recent films have increasingly tended more towards the sentimental, and his touch is in evidence here.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn’t a bad film, but it just isn’t up to the standard of the Duplass’ previous work. It’s as if one of the ordinary people that populated their earlier films suddenly realized they were in a movie and began living his life that way. Additionally, the movie feels stuck in that odd place between comedy and drama. Dramedy, I believe they call it? Granted, it is a tough line to walk, but not an impossible one. The film is funny, but not hilarious enough to call itself a comedy. It’s dramatic, but not serious enough to call itself a drama either. Cyrus managed this balancing act quite deftly. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, on the other hand, does not fair so well. The movie is a meandering tale that doesn’t really accomplish much in the telling. And we all know movies like that, don’t we?