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Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Gen X Review of Jeff, Who Lives At Home Poster
Jeff is stuck.


Waking up just long enough to do bong hits, a prisoner self-confined to his mother’s basement, Jeff is an evolutionary dead-end. At 30 his biggest challenge is crossing town on a bus to get wood glue.

If this doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of dude you’d want to spend an hour and a half with, don’t feel bad: I felt the same way. I got my fill of befuddled middle-aged slackers last year with Our Idiot Brother and wasn’t expecting much out of Jeff, Who Lives at Home. The newest film by the Duplass brothers – who gave us quirky films such as Baghead and The Puffy Chair – is unusually sweet, charming, and even occasionally moving.

Jason Segal stars as Jeff, an adrift stoner who has taken M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs literally, pontificating over the mysteries of destiny described in the film. His life, like the lives of the characters in Signs, only makes sense when looked at backwards from a climatic ending. So he searches for this ending in the most random events imaginable – in a wrong number or the name printed on a basketball jersey – convinced that the end will justify the craziness of the journey.

The goose chase for wood glue at the insistence of his emotionally overworked mother (Susan Sarandon) gets this inert Sasquatch moving, but for most of the film he seems to drift aimlessly. Because everything means something to him, he’s unable to determine which leads are likely to pan out so he follows them all.

Eventually he meets his brother Pat (Ed Helms) outside of a Hooters. Like Jeff, Pat’s domestic life is in stasis. He and his wife Linda (Judy Greer) barely communicate and seem to be on different paths. She wants to save up, “act like grown-ups,” and buy a house, but he wants to purchase a Porsche, mostly as a means of negotiating their failed sex life. (They haven’t had sex in months and Pat believes the sports car will warm his wife up for him when really she just wants him to be more present in their relationship.)

There is something very wrong with Jeff, Pat and their mom. While searching for an ending that will tie the film (and their lives) together, they constantly bump against an unnamable event that has left them emotionally disfigured. The scars of this original trauma must be peeled back to free these characters.

Jeff continues to misread the signs, however, and we do, too. Although there is a precious, almost too-sweet Hollywood taint to the film, it also pulls against the conventions. Jeff is not the slacker savior who has all the answers because he “trusts the universe.” As the plot goes off track, stalls, and comes back around, it comes back as something new, mostly because we begin to recognize the characters as people and not stock types.

“Have you ever felt like you were waiting forever to figure out what your destiny is all about and when you finally do it’s not all that exciting?” Jeff muses, revealing not only that he has always already known what his “problem” was (and from where it stemmed), but also admitting that he has just been playing a role. It’s a role we’ve seen developed in other films and it’s not particularly creative or life-affirming.

All the characters find themselves stuck on a bridge near the end of the film, and Jeff suddenly frees himself and in so doing frees others who might have been doomed to become as lost as he has been. It’s not the most elegant or believable climax, but it ties the film together better than wood glue.

 

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