A film review by Craig J. Koban June 20, 2012
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME
2012, R, 83 mins.
2012, R, 83 mins.
Jeff: Jason Segel /
Pat: Ed Helms /
Sharon: Susan Sarandon /
Linda: Judy Greer /
Carol: Rae Dawn Chong /
Steve: Steve Zissis
I strained to find what JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME was trying to be about because, quite frankly, I honestly don’t think that the makers of the film had the foggiest idea either.
meanders around – kind of like its slacker, basement living, and
lethargic “hero” – without much of an overall plan or purpose, only to reach a
would-be uplifting, thought-provoking, and deep feeling climax that
conveniently ties every loose and improvised plot detail together to form
a whole. JEFF, WHO LIVES AT
HOME tries, I think, to harness its Zen-like and destiny-centric themes of
just follow the signs – no matter how unrelated – until they lead you
to something big to attain
a level of significance. I
just didn’t find the film to be a significant experience.
Perhaps worst of
all is that the film contains some really fine performances that are at
odds with a script that can’t decide if it wants to be sobering and
contemplative or just a light comedy of errors and manners that’s built
upon sitcom-worthy contrivances. JEFF,
WHO LIVES AT HOME never really becomes an engagingly funny comedy nor a
weighty drama, but rather just a bit of a schizophrenic film that contains elements
we’ve seen before in abundance (the ambitionless loser that lives in his
mom’s basement that's a loveable lug; his strained relationship with his
more successful brother; the reconnection between the brothers as the film
progresses; their semi-depressed mother who struggles to find an identity
for herself…and so on). That,
and it really strains hard to find a way to tie together its entire
insecurely laid out story threads to mechanically concoct a pinnacle of
emotional importance in the end. As
a result JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a film a film that thinks it’s more
serious and important than it is.
Jeff (Jason Segel, effortlessly likeable, even when playing thirty-something slobs
that we should admonish) is a down-on-his luck loafer.
He’s 30, unmarried, jobless, and, yes, lives at home in his
mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement.
He has all the time in the world to contemplate many
philosophically heavy matters while pinching off his morning loaf on the
toilet, like the meaning and greatness of the movie SIGNS.
In a well given monologue by Segel that opens the film, Jeff
pontificates on his appreciation for M. Night Shymalan’s work while relaying why he thinks it’s not just an alien invasion film.
He thinks it’s more about how fate and destiny works in life and
how seemingly unrelated occurrences and events – no matter how mundane
and inconsequential – come together in the end to yield a powerful end
result. I loved SIGNS as
well, but Jeff has clearly read too much into the film.
Yet, Jeff really
and truly believes in such metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, so much that when he
receives a wrong-number phone call from a person looking for someone named
Kevin, he makes it his day’s mission to uncover the significance of the Kevin that was requested (of course, without ever once thinking that it
was just a random wrong number call to his house).
While on his journey of discovery, Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms)
is having his own issues: he is in a rather loveless marriage with his
wife, Linda (the always great Judy Greer) who becomes enraged when Pat
buys a Porsche that they can’t afford without her consent.
In the middle of the day Pat comes in contact with his brother and
the two make a surprising discovery: it appears that Linda might be having
an affair. As the two go on a
series of wacky misadventures throughout the day to find absolute proof
of Linda’s infidelity, their mother is trying to discover the
identity of a secret admirer at her work office.
If you are unable to deduce whom the admirer is within a few short
minutes than you have no pulse.
get it. Those
that have seen the film are trying to tell me, "But Craig, JEFF, WHO
LIVES AT HOME is purposely directionless.
It all boils down to how one wrong phone call, a meeting with his
brother, a search for truth about Linda’s supposed affair, and his
mother’s brush with an admirer will all – as SIGNS has taught us – build to a crescendo of interconnectedness for all the players
involved. At this time Jeff is given the opportunity to do something special and,
in turn, touch the hearts of all around him, healing them in one form or
Yes, I get it.
Jeff’s an unsophisticated doofus that spends a day defined by
unrelated signs and peculiar, unreliable incidents, but because Jeff is so
convinced that they will build to something big viewers are meant to
be just as convinced as well. I
wasn’t. The aforementioned
big climax of the film is a would-be big and triumphant moment for Jeff
that artificially brings all those that are close to him together for that
pivotal moment where Jeff achieves a moment of greatness.
It feels less like fate and destiny, though, than it does as the
result of a scattershot screenplay.
It’s too bad,
because the film sports a good cast that competently does what they can
with their characters. Segal, as stated, has a level of goofball charm and
underlining sweetness that helps make Jeff something more than a pathetic
strain on his mother and family.
His co-star, Ed Helms, can play frenetically anxious and easily
paranoid comic characters in his sleep and is a nice foil to Segal’s
more restrained turn. Sarandon
hits most of the right notes by tapping into her mother character’s
vulnerability and puzzlement in terms of not only dealing with her two
sons, but also with discovering who is admiring her from afar at work.
Judy Green perhaps hijacks the film away from her co-stars - as she
did in certain instances in last year’s THE
DESCENDENTS – with her performances as the beleaguered wife that
may or may not be faithful.