Tuesday, 22 May 2012
'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' review:
Following their broad mainstream ascent from indie "mumblecore" roots with the comedy 'Cyrus', the brothers Duplass taken another swing at Hollywood acceptance with 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home'. Though this time the comedy is less broad and much more slight, bordering on absent altogether. In fact it's difficult to decide whether 'Jeff' is an unfunny failure of a comedy or simply an unsatisfying attempt at nuanced character study. It's watchable, even if the co-directors insist on a determinedly lo-fi, shaky cam aesthetic with the camera zooming in and out of every shot, but that's mainly due the presence of some appealing performers in Jason Segel, Susan Sarandon and the underused Judy Greer.
The story concerns the titular Jeff (adorable, doe-eyed manchild Segel) who lives in his mother's basement at the age of 30. He's a jobless stoner who desperately wants to believe in "signs" and "destiny" but who has no clear path or lofty aspirations. He spends his days frustrating his mother by failing to perform the modest domestic tasks he is given. Meanwhile Jeff's unconscionable prick of a brother, Pat (Ed Helms), is - at least in the traditional sense - the successful one: he has a new sports car, a beautiful wife and a high-paying job. However things aren't right with his marriage to Linda (Greer), and he suspects her of having an affair. Their mother Sharon (Sarandon) feels unable to connect with either of her sons and is deeply isolated and unhappy, spending her days in a small office cubicle and her nights alone. The plot takes place over one day as all their lives intersect and Jeff discovers his destiny, re-connecting with his brother along the way.
Segel is a wonderful actor and owns the film's half-dozen funny moments, most of which are born from delivery rather than anything inherently funny in the dialogue. He is also the film's heart, creating a likable if pitiable loner - a naive but good-natured man with infinite sadness just behind the eyes. His story - a man in search of a place or purpose, for whom life has not lived up to youthful expectation - is immensely relatable, though the resolution of his arc is a deeply disappointing cop-out, with his destiny hackneyed and overblown. His situation is grounded but the climax is contrived claptrap. Sarandon's arc suffers from a similar third-act departure into movieland: enjoyable and sweet for the most part, but resolved with a cringing display of unfettered whimsy.
'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' is out now in the UK, rated '15' by the BBFC.