Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)

Directed by: Jay & Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon

2010’s Cyrus marked a turning point for flagship “mumblecore” auteurs The Duplass Brothers, as the not-so-brash departure in question deftly blends their trademark dry wit with surprisingly authentic bouts of human emotion. Coupled with the sheer originality of the central premise and subsequent (often hilarious) conflict between its costars, the entire production teems with promise and my hopes for bigger and better things for the siblings. Their latest, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is a bit more ambitiously lofty from a conceptual, existential standpoint, however everything’s so plain enjoyable that any heavy-handed musings on the subjects at hand are easily forgivable.

Focusing on one, Jeff, as a routine errand involving the acquisition of wood glue turns into a full-on search for meaning, self-worth and whether or not everything truly happens for a reason; all linked via the film’s ruminations on random (and not so random) connections and their questionable significance in our everyday lives. Freak coincidences lead to Jeff’s eventual reunion with his brother, of whom soon suspects his wife may be having an affair with a coworker. In an alternate, substantially less interesting story arc we have the brothers’ mother (Susan Sarandon) at her place of employment, wrapped up in a mystery concerning her and a supposed secret admirer.

The disjointed narrative sidesteps the more obvious faults found within these shifts in focus, as recurring themes of our protagonists’ conception of destiny interfering in our everyday lives loosely link the mildly disparate storylines in a serviceable fashion. The scenes involving Segel’s naive, unassuming yet infinitely well-intentioned Jeff and egomaniac brother Pat (Ed Helms) are, once again, agreeably more entertaining than Sarandon’s arc, remaining alternately hilarious and even touching despite its periodically subdued mumblecore sensibilities. Jeff‘s latter act more often than not takes a turn for the dramatic, but the moments involving Pat’s crumbling marriage are eerily relatable and appealing as such.

Remaining decidedly and unsubtly more insightful than humorous as it enters its latter act, Jeff benefits endlessly from Jason Segel’s heartfelt portrayal of the film’s flawed but undeniably amiable lead character. He embodies all of Jeff’s quirks in a way only an actor of his comedic caliber could, and flawless chemistry with onscreen sibling Ed Helms as Pat aids in bringing a substantial amount of less ambiguous goings-on that will most certainly appeal to a wider audience. Sarandon and even Judy Greer round out he bunch with pair of above average performances, ensuring that the cast as a whole aids Jeff, Who Lives at Home in being a well above average effort.

All in all, The Duplass Brothers’ second go within the realm of the more dramatically charged is a pretty tremendous success, providing you can relate to its protagonist’s almost childlike view on life, the film’s ostensible views on the significance of connections in our everyday lives and the idea of possessing our own respective “destinies.” Segel as the male lead certainly brings a lot to the table with what I consider to be one of the better performances of the year thus far, and coupled with the more-than-serviceable efforts of the supporting cast, Sarandon included despite my distaste toward her character’s overall involvement, Jeff, Who Lives at Home once again marks a step in the right direction for Jay and Mark Duplass as they attempt to answer life’s bigger questions in an unparalleled, singular fashion.

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