Paramount // 2012 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 19th, 2012
The first step to finding your destiny is leaving your mother's basement.
"I want to be in love with you again."
Jeff (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is a 30-year-old man who still lives in his mother's basement. For the most part, his days are spent smoking pot and pondering the new-age philosophy he's concocted which is based on the movie Signs. Jeff's brother is the cynical, irritable Pat (Ed Helms, Cedar Rapids), who is currently attempting to cope with a crumbling marriage and what seems to be a forthcoming mid-life crisis. Jeff and Pat don't have much of a relationship these days, as the latter finds the former's pseudo-spiritual spaciness incredibly irritating. However, the realization that Pat's wife Linda (Judy Greer, The Descendants) may be having an affair leads the siblings to team up and conduct an investigation. Meanwhile, Jeff and Pat's frustrated mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking) begins receiving a series of romantic texts from an anonymous admirer at her office.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a slight movie that doesn't quite know what to do with its intriguing concept, but nonetheless a pleasure to behold due to the strength of the characterization. Its title character is one of actor Jason Segel's finest creations to date, a sweet, spacy man so convinced of his own obviously ridiculous M. Night Shyamalan-inspired philosophy that we're almost inclined to believe him. Segel has a certain shaggy serenity which sets him apart from many other products of the Judd Apatow factory, and his distinctive presence is superbly used here. Of course, there's also a certain sadness to many of Segel's characters, and it doesn't take long to realize that Jeff's facade of serenity is masking a great deal of loneliness.
Ed Helms has specialized in playing pathetic men of various types, and he does an angrier variation on his Andy Bernard routine in this film. The scenes he shares with Judy Greer are particularly revealing; they both talk to each other in an intense, passive-aggressive fashion but each party seems to be just missing whatever it is the other is attempting to say. The whole "estranged brothers slowly coming to respect each other" plot strand has been done before, but Helms sells the journey effectively as his pompous derision slowly transforms into bewildered respect (Jeff doesn't have far to go, as his loving philosophy enables him to be ready to embrace his brother as soon as his brother is ready to embrace him).
For a long time, Susan Sarandon's character seems to be wandering through an entirely different movie, albeit a similarly compelling one. There's a bit of a mystery in the attempt to discover the identity of her secret admirer, but the plot is primarily used as a springboard to explore a weary, downtrodden, aging woman slowly beginning to come alive again. Sarandon is simply lovely in the role; watch the way her eyes light up when she's given an all-too-rare compliment. Quite a few recent movies have wasted the talented actress, but with the right material she's capable of delivering something really special. The Duplass Brothers clearly have a good deal of appreciation for her specific talents.
Though the film focuses as much on its other two central characters as it does on Jeff, it's Jeff's philosophical inclinations which inform the manner in which the movie proceeds. When he receives a wrong number phone call asking for someone named Kevin, Jeff eagerly attempts to explore any Kevin-themed connections he can find (even going so far as to stalk a teenager wearing a basketball jersey with the name "Kevin" on the back). For once, his fits of inspiration seem to result in happy coincidences, and eventually Jeff's "follow the signs!" mantra leads the movie into its melodramatic, awkward final reel. On a thematic level, the ending works quite nicely. However, it's hard to dismiss the overwrought contrivance of it all; it wants to be a Magnolia moment but it isn't nearly that bold or inventive. Still, the satisfying journey more than compensates for the messy destination.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Blu-ray) has received an exceptional 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which boasts terrific detail and depth throughout. As usual, the Duplass brothers have placed an emphasis on sweaty close-ups and that oddly distracting, jerky zoom effect which has become their personal trademark, and these elements may be quite divisive among viewers (I like the way they use the former, but not the latter). However, what's here is presented with about as much polish and pop as possible, and the film is more conventionally attractive than anything else they've done to date. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is quite simple -- there's very little going on for the majority of the film aside from the crisp, clean dialogue -- but it gets the job done and delivers during those brief moments in which a great deal of force and sound design is needed. The only disappointment is that there are no supplements of any sort included on the disc, though you do get an Ultraviolet Digital Copy.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a small step down from the precise, surprisingly affecting Cyrus, but it's a worthwhile endeavor which confirms that the Duplass brothers have a memorable, empathetic cinematic voice. I'm looking forward to whatever they do next.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy
* Official Site