The first scene of Jeff, Who Lives at Home encapsulates the entire movie. The film opens with a close up of Jason Segel’s face as he explains into a tape recorder that he loves M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, because the movie parallels his own world view that everything in the universe is connected, and destiny drives everyone towards a perfect moment. He concludes by questioning what destiny has in store for him. Segel’s performance here is straight-faced and perfectly sincere. The camera cuts to a medium wide shot, revealing Jeff sitting on the toilet, his pants around his knees. He delivered his heart-felt monologue while taking a crap. Clever.
The entire movie is like that. Jeff, Who Lives at Home aims to make its audience smile, but doesn’t strive to make them laugh. It is clever, but not particularly funny—the kind of movie that middle aged college professors watch at art house cinemas over a glass of wine, then promptly forget about.
The story follows Jeff (Jason Segel), a thirty year old slacker who lives with his mother, as he embarks on a quest to purchase some wood glue from Home Depot in order to fix a damaged kitchen door. Seeing signs of his destiny everywhere, it isn’t long before Jeff strays from his chore only to end up entangled in his brother Pat’s (Ed Helms) domestic drama; Pat suspects that his wife is cheating on him. Meanwhile, their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) spends a day at work, splitting her free time between trying to ascertain the identity of a secret admirer and calling Jeff to ensure that he did in fact take steps to fix the kitchen door. Throughout the 83 minute runtime of the film their stories overlap in different ways.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is another quirky, indie, white-people-with-problems movie. None of the characters exist in a state of crisis. Instead they just wander through a general malaise. Jeff is in a position where he can lay around and smoke weed all day while pontificating about the mysteries of the universe; Pat’s marriage is in danger, but remains salvageable; Sharon appears lonely and unhappy, but her predicament is adjustable, too.
We get the sense that the three are suffering from a lingering pain over the untimely loss of the boys’ father, but that’s about it. Their problems seem to be largely self-imposed. Of course, the members of the dysfunctional family learn that the answers to their problems are all right in front of their faces. The power to improve their lives resides within them. They learn that Jeff was right all along: Everything is interconnected, and destiny guides everyone. Their only duty is to accept it.
Normally movies that vacillate between odd ball humor and heartfelt drama enrage me, but I didn’t find myself despising Jeff, Who Lives at Home. The casting is pitch-perfect: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon do an excellent job turning potentially self-pitying whiners into likable and somewhat relatable people. No one in the movie commits the cardinal sin of being pathetic and grating, they’re just morose. Mark and Jay Duplass, pulling writing and directing duties here, clearly care about their characters. None of the humor is vile or mean spirited. That makes it easier to have some emotional investment in the film, regardless of whether it is funny or not.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is not a bad movie. It’s not poorly made. It has everything you might expect from a low budget dramedy about a pothead who goes out to buy wood glue and not one thing more, which is to say, however, that it happens to be exactly like every other indie movie made over the past two decades. It’s quirky for the sake of being quirky and precious for the sake of being precious.
Those who haven’t found themselves burned out by the barrage of precious indie features released over the past two decades will eat this up. Those suffering from indie fatigue will find themselves shrugging their shoulders at this one.