Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012) – Review

Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home is funny and dramatic, and while it is a non-secular dramedy it seemingly plays as almost a spiritual piece. The film is about Jeff, a slacker who lives in his mom’s basement thing to figure out what his purpose in life is. He gets a wrong number call in the morning that sets him off on a journey following what he believes to be signs from the universe pertaining to his purpose. He runs into his brother Pat who suspects his wife is cheating on him, and Jeff and Pat merge their efforts (not to give too much away). Before delving into the narrative too much, the visual style that writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass employ adds nothing to the film, and if anything is distracting and annoying (though, here, it is nowhere near as prevalent or awful as with their last film Cyrus). The constant quick zooms in or out, simulating some sort of amateurish documentary style greatly detract from everything else going on in the film (i.e. the performances, the tone, the other aesthetics; and while I am not certain, they even look as though they were added in post). It is one thing to implement an aesthetic touch that serves the narrative or tone of the film; it is another to just do it because that is your style regardless of narrative or tone, serving nothing, contributing nothing and being pointless. The Duplass Brothers’ visual style feels pointless and hurts their films. That tangent aside, the Duplass Brothers seem to approach the character of Jeff and his journey of self-discovery from almost a spiritual place. Without pegging any one set of beliefs, Jeff seems to believe he is given signs from the universe telling him where to go, but the Duplass Brothers make it a point that Jeff still has to make the decisions once he gets their – as if the universe is nudging him in a certain direction, but Jeff must choose how to act. And through this journey, Jeff to some degree finds himself, but more so he helps others around him (the basketball player, his brother Pat and his wife Linda, his mother, and Kevin). The Duplass Brothers easily could have wound up with something that felt very hooky, but they writer Jeff to be warm and likable (also this is due to Jason Segel’s great performance) which makes his actions and motivations feel real. The audience likes Jeff and thus is behind him on his journey. Jeff’s warmth stands out as well as the other characters are all disillusioned, disheartened and disenchanted – basically, they are stuck in neutral just plodding forward void of true connection or meaning. They need someone to jumpstart them, and this is where Jeff comes in (though, as a slacker 30-year old who lives in his mother’s basement, Jeff seems the unlikely hero). Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a feel good film that makes the audience care about its characters and may even have them thinking about their own lives and what they are doing with them, but it is tripped up a bit by some of the Duplass Brother’s pointless visual aesthetics and some slow pacing (even though the film is only 82 minutes long).

Technical, aesthetic and acting achievements: I thought the Duplass Brothers would realize that their quick zooms only detract from their films after Cyrus, I was wrong. They are otherwise good directors and I have to believe will outgrow it. Producer Jason Reitman’s influence is felt on the film, as Jeff’s narrative journey feels aligned with his own work, being one of self-discovery, while still seemingly left largely unchanged at the end. The work of composer Michael Andrews, cinematographer Jas Shelton and production designer Chris Spellman all essentially places the narrative in the real world – unflashy, just average and normal. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is built on its performances and dialogue. Rae Dawn Chong, much like Segel’s performance, brings a lot of warmth to the film. She is another entity that tries to insight change in the mundane live of Sharon (Jeff’s mother). Susan Sarandon is very good as Sharon. She seemingly has completely given up hope and yet desperately wants to be rescued from her own life. Judy Greer plays Linda as someone fed up, grasping at anything to feel something. It is another good small supporting performance from her (as she was also great in The Descendants in 2011). Ed Helms plays Pat as sort of a darker version of his The Office character Andy. Pat is a bit clueless; and much like Linda, he just wants to feel something again. Segel gives the best performance of the film. His opening monologue is some of his best work to date – emotionally intense but still with an overtone of this likable average relaxed cool guy.

Summary & score: Jeff, Who Lives at Home offers its audience a few laughs, some good dramatic moments and maybe even something profound. 7/10 

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