Friday, March 16, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home: The Duplass Bros are getting better with every film

What I like the most about the Duplass Brothers is that it's clear by watching them that they aren't trying to move mountains. They're not necessarily trying to break new ground. They just have a way of getting really strong performances out of their actors, they put them in comic, yet mostly realistic situations and what you get are films that are funny, human, and sometimes moving. There's nothing that'll blow you away about Jeff Who Lives at Home but there's a lot of funny moments to it and there's a lot of emotional truth to it; all this from an 82 minute movie. So, yeah, it's slight. But it's like a very satisfying sandwich. The layers are there, it tastes good, and it's over when it's supposed to be over.

Jason Segel plays Jeff, a 30 year old who lives in his mother's basement. Ed Helms is Pat, the older brother who is unhappily married but is financially more successful than Jeff. Then there's their mother played by Susan Sarandon who is a widow who is just trying to get Jeff to go out and get something accomplished, whether it's a small accomplishment or not.

Jeff is a stoner who strongly believes in fate, that everything that happens all leads to a big event that will change his life and/or everyone's life around him. Oddly enough, the movie Signs has inspired him to have this worldview and when someone calls the house, looking for a man named Kevin (it's a wrong number), Jeff takes it as a sign of fate. "Kevin" must mean something, but what? His mother then calls him and asks him to go to the store and pick up some wood glue, which ultimately starts up the chain of events that happen in the film.

That involves bumping into his brother Pat who "just had a business meeting in Hooters." They eventually come together to spy on Pat's wife (played by Judy Greer) who they suspect is cheating on him. Sure, the "coincidence" aspect of the film may feel a bit forced and there's somewhat a satirical edge to what the Duplass brothers are exploring, but they do a great job of just letting the characters be who they are without criticizing them too much. Jeff and Pat are flawed people, but they're not entirely unlikable. They're just human.

Susan Sarandon plays Sharon who spends most of the movie stuck at the office. She's concerned about Jeff and wants him and his brother to get along on her birthday, but at work, she has other concerns, like wondering who her "secret admirer" is. I like how the mother is included in on the story; it gives the film more depth. Her story is more of a subplot in the film, but all these characters come together in a moment that Jeff had apparently been anticipating all this time.

Yes the film comes together at the end and, overall, it's a pretty happy ending. I guess you can call this a "feel-good movie." But it never forces any emotions upon you, it just exists the way it is even in its contrivances. I can get on board with a film like that.

The Duplass Brothers are strong filmmakers. They can do without the unnecessary zooms, but they used a lot less of it this time around. At least, it wasn't as annoying as it was in Cyrus. Still, I can't quite give this film an A-grade because I want to see them be able to tell a story of theirs without the unnecessary zooming style. It's still enough to be noticed and it never adds to the story. Nevertheless, this is a great improvement upon Cyrus and The Puffy Chair and the Duplass Bros have shown so far that they are the most talented of the "mumblecore" bunch.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

It's a pretty thin concept for a feature, with some potent one-liners and sight gags that are more sporadic than consistent. The cast is pretty good and tries their best but what I was mostly surprised by was how unfunny Segel and Helms were together, and they were improvising half of the time too! Nice review Ken. Check out my review when you get the chance.