Jeff is a 30 year old slacker who still lives in his mother’s basement, he believes in fate, but does not have the motivation to make things happen for himself. When he is dispatched on an errand for his mother he may finally discover his destiny, through a series of unexpected events.
Jason Segel is having something of a busy year. Not only is he still involved with How I Met Your Mother – when will Ted ever meet his kids’ mother!? – but he has given us The Muppets, Jeff, Who Lives at Home and has The Five Year Engagement on the way. Segel is the centre of this film, but he is not left alone to carry it. His entire family is dysfunctional in one way or another, but he is the only one who actually shows this on the outside. Jeff is a lost man-child, and a combination of innocence, spontaneity and overly analytical. Jeff searches for signs in his every day life, but has no qualms about following the most random path. Segel allows Jeff to be quiet and unassuming, and be the catalyst for the change that happens around him.
Ed Helms always manages to play the sweet underdog in movies – The Hangover included – so it is with great joy that we get to see him play a character who is as disillusioned as the rest of his family. Helms allows the characters anger at the state of his marriage to bubble under and release in short paranoid bursts, and as such Helms gets to show more versatility than we have seen from him in a long time. Even if he does become the sweet guy in the end. Susan Sarandon plays Sharon – Jeff and Pat’s mother – who is equally as stuck as her children and, throughout the film, goes through her own journey of discovery and begins to break free of the chains she has created around herself. Sarandon allows Sharon to wear her anger on the outside, but the character has a warm and gentle centre underneath it all. Judy Greer – who just gets better and better – plays Pat’s beleaguered wife Linda.
The arc of the story in this film is quite small; these people are not out to save the world or create a cure for cancer, they are trying to struggle through the choices they have made in their lives and come to terms with where these choices have led them. Each of them is stuck in their own way, and this becomes abundantly clear with Sharon’s admission that she lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but has not been to New Orleans in 20 years. On a personal note, as someone who loves New Orleans, it is this line that reveals most about the characters; these people are so involved in the small worlds they have created, it is impossible for them to see the bigger picture. Of course, we never know whether they reach New Orleans – Helms and Segel take the plunge and jump into Lake Ponchatrain in order to complete their personal journeys – but the fact that they were on the road to The Big Easy marks a change in their outlooks on life.
Jay and Mark Duplass have made a career of telling the stories of people who are trapped in one way or another, and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is no exception. The small victories that these people win in their lives become towering triumphs through the eyes of the Duplass brothers and these small moments in their lives become filled with emotional resonance for the audience.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is warm, funny, honest, charming and incredibly touching, the film reminds the audience that Jay and Mark Duplass make films about the small moments in life that have big impact on us.