Jeff, Who Lives at Home (***½)

I’ve always enjoyed the work of pseudo-cult filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass. From ‘The Puffy Chair’ to ‘Baghead’ to ‘Cyrus’, they’ve gone from pioneers of the Mumblecore movement to a talented duo that could very well be headed towards major mainstream success in the somewhat near future. With ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’, I personally feel that this is their finest work to date, and perhaps their most accessible one as well. It’s their most mature outing, an existential, funny, and moving tale of destiny and family told over one crazy day. The Duplass Brothers fully believe in the mindset of their protagonist Jeff (played beautifully by Jason Segel in his finest performance to date) that everything is connected, and they illustrate it in some subtle and amusing ways. Like their other works, this is more about characters than story, but the balance is more even than usual. Some of their DIY filmmaking tricks (notably the random close-up/zoom-in) is still in play, but I personally don’t mind one bit. This is also their highest profile cast to date, featuring Ed Helms, Judy Greer, and Susan Sarandon in addition to Segel. They all do fine work, and Greer as always is a scene stealer. This is a real winning film and easily one of the best films I’ve seen so far in 2012.

Jeff (Segel) is a reclusive stoner who still lives at home, spending most of his time in his mother’s basement. When we first meet him, he’s explaining how he lives his life according to ‘Signs’, his favorite movie. He feels that signs are everywhere and if you follow the messages of the universe, things will reveal themselves. There are no coincidences, and meaning is found everywhere to Jeff. When his mother Sharon (Sarandon) calls from work and asks Jeff to pick up some wood glue to fix a shutter in the kitchen, it sets him off on an adventure. He winds up running into his brother Pat (Helms) at one point, who’s just angered his wife Linda (Greer) by irresponsibly buying a Porshe. When they both see her with a strange man having a meal and then heading off for parts unknown, they fear the worst and set off to confront her. All of these coincidences build up and further embolden Jeff while Pat continues to think he’s a stoned version of Yoda. Meanwhile, their mother has a secret admirer at work who’s not at all who she expects. At the end of the day, everything comes together in a traffic jam on a bridge. How that all fits I’ll let you discover, but it’s a rather satisfying and understated conclusion.

This is Jason Segel at his very best. Now, I loved him in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and thought he was perfect for that role (not surprising since he wrote it based on his life), but he elevates his game here in a real nice way. His child-like innocence is used by the Duplass Brothers to perfection here. I adored him in this role. Ed Helms is playing a less exaggerated version of the type of guy he’s played in things like ‘The Hangover’, but he overcomes his character being a bit unlikeable, and you root for him to save his relationship with Linda. Speaking of, Judy Greer only has a few scenes, but like in ‘The Descendants’, she brings such raw emotion and honesty to her part that she creates a truly memorable character. Susan Sarandon is very good too, but she’s stuck in a cubicle for most of the movie. The cast also includes Rae Dawn Chong, Evan Ross, Steve Zissis, and others, but Segel and Greer rule over the entire cast.

While the Duplass Brothers have always had a fun and loose quality to their work, this is the first time that they’ve really hit home on the emotion as well. Their script loves the concept of everything being connected and embraces the silly logic, and that makes the story work. As for their direction, they stubbornly stick to some of their techniques that some aren’t fond of, such as the aforementioned zooms, but overall it shows a lot of growth on their part. I can easily see Jay and Mark as future Oscar nominees if they keep this up. The talent is certainly there.

‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’ is a lovely little film that does nearly everything right. The Duplass Brothers are at their best, Jason Segel is at his best, and the final product is an absolute delight. It’s certainly a small scale flick, but that’s hardly an issue. For my money, almost nothing this year has been as good as this (maybe ‘The Grey’ is superior, and ’21 Jump Street’ is right behind it…yes, I inexplicably loved that comedy), and I think it has a fighting shot of sticking around my top 10 list for a while during the season. I highly recommend giving this one a shot, you’ll be glad that you did!

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