The brothers Duplass look for the signs and hit all the right markers in this charming and funny taken on life beginning at thirty.
There has been a gradual shift in coming of age films over the last few decades, with the genre no longer the domain of love-struck teens and children of impoverished backgrounds. Perhaps indicative of a generation of people who don’t have to make major life decisions until they are entering their fourth decade of existence, but the films have increasingly become the playground of middle-class thirty-somethings experiencing early mid-life crises. A marker of a generation who never had to grow up through any major social disaster, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a character study formed in this mindset, but also a showcase for some fine acting talent.
Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, who have become de facto ambassadors of the emerging “Mumblecore” aesthetic through films such as Cyrus, bring their stylistic leanings to more mainstream fare. Jeff (Jason Segel), as the title would imply, is a 30-something year old man who still lives in his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. Obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs (2002), Jeff waits for the universe to send him a message, which he believes he finds when he receives a wrong number phone call for ‘Kevin’. Meanwhile, Sharon deals with a potential secret admirer at work, and Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) goes through his own mid-life crisis with the purchase of a Porsche, and problems with his wife Linda (Judy Greer).
For a style of film that is known for its lo-fi, laid-back attitude, the Duplass brothers manage to infuse their film with an unexplained energy that carries it to its illogical, magical conclusion. This is mostly Segel’s film, and while the roles he has written for himself have begun to fall into a comfortable rhythm (especially The Five Year Engagement), the Duplass siblings recognise how adorkable he is to audiences. Described as a “Sasquatch” in the film, the film takes full advantage of his giant teddy bear charm, allowing audiences to suspend disbelief for some of the more obvious emotionally manipulative elements of the screenplay. He may be considered the social outcast by his family, but like Jesse Peretz’s Our Idiot Brother (2011), he sees more truth than the allegedly ‘adult’ characters.
Susan Sarandon effortlessly slips into this world, her uptight worries about her flirtatious co-worker/stalker suggestive of the upbringing Jeff and Pat must have had. Similarly, Helms sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s kind of the point. He’s arrogant, blinkered to his wife’s unhappiness and scornful of Jeff’s philosophy, but Jeff, Who Lives at Home is about his enlightenment just as much as it is Jeff’s. It’s ultra-twee in parts, and even those who go with the flow might have trouble with some of the incredible coincidences that lead to the climax, but this gentle musing on life is a reminder to stop and smell the roses.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home played at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2012. It’s currently available on DVD and Blu-ray in the US.