KATHMANDU: Directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, Jeff Who Lives At Home follows on Cyrus, last year’s comic gem. Both are mumblecore movies.
Mumblecore is a term used to describe a number of American independent films produced in the early 2000s characterised by low budget production values and amateur actors. The term ‘mumblecore’ was coined by Eric Masunaga one night at a bar.
Jeff who lives at home is 30, unmarried, unemployed and lives in his mother’s basement filled with pot fumes. He is so large and unkempt that his brother calls him Sasquatch. He watches the M Night Shyamalan movie Signs over and over again, convinced it contains the key to the universe. That key, Jeff thinks, is that the universe is filled with meaningful coincidences, and all you must do is remain alert to them, and your destiny will take care of itself.
If Jeff (Jason Segal) is aimless, his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), is stuck in a lifeless marriage. His relationship with his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), is limited to registering her presence. While she focuses on saving money for a house, he reveals he’s purchased a Porsche. He takes her out to the deck of their condo to admire it in the driveway, and she startles him by dumping her breakfast on it. The nice breakfast he has just prepared for her! Women! What do they want?
Jeff and Pat share a widowed mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who is approaching a birthday and demands that Jeff blast loose from the basement and perform one simple task for her: replacing a kitchen shutter. Nothing can be simple when the universe is filled with signs and coincidences. Thus, commences an eventful day for the family.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the latest film by the brothers Duplass, who began in mumblecore with The Puffy Chair (2005) and created a comic gem in Cyrus (2011). The first film involved two brothers and a shaky relationship. The second involved a mother and a demanding son who lives at home. In this film, the name ‘Kevin’ seems to be a signpost from the universe. Jay’s next film will be titled Kevin, a doc about an early hero.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a whimsical comedy, very whimsical, depending on the warmth of Segal and Sarandon, the discontent of Helms and Greer, and still more warmth that enters at midpoint with Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), Sarandon’s co-worker at the office. We get the impression they’re all waiting around for the Universe to whack them over the head with a 2x4 sign, and in the last act, it does.
All the major characters are stuck in a traffic jam on a bridge when an accident occurs. Now there’s a coincidence that comes with a sign attached. What happens next can best be described as a melodramatic event that isn’t terribly likely but is terrifically effective in lowering a one-size-fits-all ending explanation into the plot. It’s all cute and self-aware, a pleasant joke on the audience, a happy ending for characters we like. It’s not a Feel Good Movie, more of a Feel Sort Of Good Movie.
One stylistic note: In nearly every scene, the Duplass brothers use quick little zooms in and out. Given the usual meaning of a sudden zoom in the grammar of the cinema (they translate as whoa!), these have no meaning at all. They’re simply devices to remind us that the story isn’t really happening but is being directed. Instead of whoa!, they translate as Duplass! They’re good directors; they’ll outgrow this.