Comedy is the hardest genre to pull off in cinema. Most writers and directors fall into the same trap. They find something funny and hammer it down ad nauseam. Your average comedy is a one note song. Movies like THE BIG LEBOWSKI and the Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse have made it through the years by varying their offense and being unpredictable. JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a good comedy. It's also a really good film that flirts with greatness. It has flown under the radar so far, but its recent addition to the Netflix lineup should help it get the recognition it deserves. It's one of those movies who will live through increased availability. The reason why JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a very good movie, is that it takes a courageous stance on a universal issue. The reason why it's not a great movies is that it doesn't carry that stance all the way through. That makes it a perfect "Rainy Afternoon" movie.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty years old pothead who lives in his mother's basement. Life terrifies him and he's on a constant lookout for signs of what his destiny is. He is pushed out of his comfort zone one day by his mother (Susan Sarandon), who threatens him with expulsion if he doesn't run an errand. The mother's call is triggering a first sign, a bizarre wrong number call about a man named Kevin and Jeff is off on his way to follow his destiny. He will meet his brother Pat (Ed Helms), who he doesn't get along with. Pat has a job, a wife, a car and an attitude about it. As Jeff keeps following the signs, they bring him back to Pat and his seemingly cheating wife. On the sideline, JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is following Pat and Jeff's mother Sharon and her mysterious workplace admirer.
Part of what makes JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME successful is the use of two underrated actors. Jason Segel, who has been playing the hilarious Marshall in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER for the last eight years and Ed Helms, who has played third wheel to Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper in THE HANGOVER, another rare genuinely funny series of films. They are perfect at playing polar opposites. Their parts are so well-crafted, well-written (especially Segel's) that they won't remind you of their respective flagship characters. Susan Sarandon's parts are a bit of an aparté, but they bring more depth to the point JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is trying to make. It's a slow movie that allows you to follow the line of thought of of its characters and appreciate the point its trying to make. It's not a gag-to-gag movie that will leave you holding your sides. It banks on keep its pace steady rather than burn out after twenty or thirty minutes. Jay and Mark Duplass knew what they wanted to say with this movie and it's their baby and no one else's. They both wrote and directed it alone.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is about the perennial question: "Is it what you do that defines who you are or is it who you are that defines what you do?" The movie leans towards the second option as both Pat and Sharon are profoundly alienated by what they do. Pat has a crumbling marriage and a visible contempt for his job (as he doesn't care being fired at all) and Sharon has had her dreams crushed by the numbing reality of office work. Jeff is lonely and confused, but a world of possibilities is still opened to him. As he leaves the house, he stars surfing existence and it's somewhat exhilarating. From the first sign he gets, you're convinced that it going to lead him somewhere good for him, that his decisions will have been warranted. But (very mild spoilers), JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME does suffer from one common storytelling issue. It doesn't know how to end. About eighty-five percent in, it hits a wall and has a really confused, emotional ending.
I didn't begrudge the movie nonetheless. While going in emotional overdrive at the finish line was unwarranted and ultimately lessened the strength with which the Duplass brothers made their point, they made their point anyway. Unlike THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, it doesn't try to say the opposite of what it's been trying to say about halfway through the movie. It's an above average film and an above average reflection of everyday life and purpose. It's aimed at a very adult public as you won't find much adolescent humor (although there is some) and it doesn't exactly bursts with action. JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME isn't easy, but it's worth the effort to sit through. There isn't just air and beautifully framed shots, as it is a movie with a purpose.