- SXSW 2014
Photo courtesy the-numbers.
The Horn's Allie Eissler reviews the indie comedy, "Jeff Who Lives at Home."
Jeff (Jason Segal) is an unemployed thirty-something pothead who lives in his mother's basement and obsesses over the interconnectedness of the universe. More specifically: the universe as depicted in his favorite film of all time, Signs.
What if there's no such thing as a wrong number? This is the guiding principle behind Jeff's existential stoner quest to fulfill his destiny — all instigated by what most of us would consider to be a totally random and meaningless phone call from a man angrily seeking some guy named Kevin. Jeff takes the call to heart, and follows every potentially Kevin-inspired rabbit trail he can find, from a kid on the bus with the name emblazoned on his basketball jersey to a similarly-titled ice cream truck.
Meanwhile, he gets roped into helping his cocky older brother Pat (Ed Helms) stalk his wife to determine whether or not she's having an affair, while their mother (Susan Sarandon) contends with a secret admirer at work. And somehow, miraculously, we discover that all of these things are interconnected, though not exactly in the ways you'd expect.
It's a sort of surreal, dysfunctional family dramedy, in the “mumblecore” tradition of “Baghead” and “The Puffy Chair.” (Read: First World Problems. Four struggling white actors are tormented by a guy with a paper bag on his head. A twentysomething couple travels cross-country to deliver a giant purple recliner to the guy's dad.) “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” has a similarly middle-class slackerish vibe, albeit with a bit more heart, I think. The film looks and feels extremely low-budget and naturalistic, and it's nothing if not quirky. If you're familiar with the Duplass brothers, you pretty much know what to expect in terms of handheld camera shots and deadpan humor.
What I wasn't expecting was just how sweet and warm and good-natured and not-even-remotely-cynical this film would be. This isn't the crazy, over-the-top vulgar spectacle we've come to expect from the Jonah Hills and Seth Rogens and Will Ferrells of the current comedy circuit — hell, even from the incarnations of Jason Segal and Ed Helms we see in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Hangover.” The Duplass brothers prefer subtlety, and “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” meanders, dream-like, from one awkward situation to the next.
Segal is the equivalent of an oversized, shaggy-haired teddy bear. Yes, he's a man-child, but he plays it much more innocently, subtly — such that his naïve belief in meaningful “signs” alternately makes us chuckle and sincerely wonder... what if? Ed Helms, on the other hand, is a little meaner than we're used to seeing him. He's the quintessential self-absorbed bully, and yet somehow manages to maintain just enough of that cluelessness and vulnerability we love about him as Andy on “The Office” — for example, he blows the money he and his wife have saved up for a house on a brand new Porsche, and isn't even embarrassed to tell her about it.
Susan Sarandon perfectly embodies Sharon, the worn-down, middle-aged, cubicle-bound widow who suddenly finds herself the object of a secret someone's amorous love notes and paper airplane doodles. Her sub-story could easily be a short film on its own, but her character is mostly kept holed away in her office, superfluous to the main action.
If anything, the journey is a little too low-key and aimless at times, and doesn't properly build to its dramatic finale. Speaking of, the ending seems to have audiences split — it's apparently either heartwarming and life-affirming or sappy enough to make your eyes roll bloodily back into your skull.
All I can say is... yes, maybe the ending is a little too precious. But overall, there's a lot about this film to like, and I think the warmth ultimately trumps the cheese factor.