Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is a title and a film that would make dubious entertainment, were it not for the considerable mumblecore talents of Jay and Mark Duplass. True, it doesn't break ground, taking its plot cue slightly from Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" about a depressive person who can't seem too accomplish much. This film however, is considerably lighter and much more upbeat, although we are shown a brown interior that is uncannily like "Greenberg" but in this case it's Jeff's mother's basement. Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty-something fellow who worries about the state of the world and looks for clues to things. He scribbles about word jumbles and numerology to keep himself busy. His favorite film is "Signs". Jeff is tall gentle and mushy. He is a "Sesame Street" version of a shut in or someone with OCD. There is nothing remotely scary about him, but his passivity is a bit unsettling.
Set on an errand, Jeff emotionally collides with his type A brother Pat (Ed Helms) Helms, who got his showbiz start on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" shows his versatility here. And Helms is not all that comic here but an absolute anal retentive straight man to Segel's  spaced out puffiness. The chemistry between them, as with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in 50/50" is the best thing about the film. What emerges in the course of  "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is a kind of Abbott and Costello journey for the Duplass duo.
We get solid performances from Segel, Helms, Susan Sarandon and Rae Dawn Chong. It's just (except for Chong) these actors are so iconic in other roles that they have become typecast. We know Ed Helms is going to play someone uptight and nervous (ala The Hangover) just as we know Jason Segel is apt to play somebody soft, kind and altruistic (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The performances are fine. I just wanted a bit more surprise and a few imponderables.
The dialogue between supposed deadbeat Jeff and angry Pat is sure to please. All the characters have spirit and their exchanges rival anything in "The Hangover" or "Bridesmaids", I just feel the film would do better to not explain all its secrets and circumstances. What starts as a promising three-pronged character study between the spaced out symbol hungry Jeff, his self-centered brother and their love-saddened mom, loses its pull when it becomes slapstick involving abused love and a go-find-her-march to "the right thing", then attempts to stitch it all together like a tv sitcom with an indie's spiritual consciousness.
What if Jeff's search for "Kevin" ( don't worry I don't mean the psychotic one) led to ambiguity and a further, more meaningful self reflection instead of an all too pat (pun intended) redemption? Now that would have been a provocative film.
That being said,"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" makes for a pleasing comedy worth leaving for, just don't look for any deep eurekas of the heart. 

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