“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is one of those ordinary comedies about an ordinary lovable loser. It’s rather plain and homemade looking. Not flashy, no product placements, no slow-mo’s of beautiful women walking by. In other words, it’s an Indie comedy. The film is written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus,” “Bag Head”) who use a contemporary filmmaking method called Mumblecore, which basically means low production values and shot with digital, hand held cameras. “Jeff” has a very documentary feel to it; I guess that’s where the ordinariness of it comes in.
Overall it’s done fairly simply. The movie is more about the characters than the situations and that’s always a plus. Too many times we see a comedy movie where the filmmakers rely on some exotic location, like Las Vegas, or some wacky situation, like a bad hangover, to provide laughs.
As far as story goes there’s not much to recap. The movie is about average, middle class life styles whose main character is Jeff (Jason Segel), a thirty year old who still lives at home. He doesn’t have a job, nor a girlfriend or wife. He’s big and tall (at one point someone refers to him as a Sasquatch), his hair is uncombed, and he wears a shabby blue sweatshirt and a pair of shorts. Jeff believes in fate, that everything happens for a reason and something as small as a wrong phone call from someone asking for Kevin is a sign from the gods. Since the highlight of his day would involve fixing a shade door, he decides to explore his possible sign from the gods and starts looking around for anything having to do with the name Kevin.
We never find out why Jeff is still living at home. Although considering his personality and the fact that his mom Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is no longer with her husband, we can make some inferences. On the other side of things we have Jeff’s older brother Pat (Ed Helms), who seems to have everything in order. Pat doesn’t live at home. He has a job, and he has a wife (Judy Greer) but his marriage is falling apart. Jeff’s wild pursuit of Kevin leads the two of them to grow much closer together. Jeff is able to help Pat with his problems and Pat is able to accept Jeff’s weird way of looking at the world. It makes for a nice central relationship. And when it’s just the two of them having conversations, the film is at its best.
It must be said that Segel is very good in the role mainly because the performance feels genuine. At the beginning there’s an extended scene of Jeff discussing why he likes the movie “Signs” and how it’s all about fate. You may laugh, not because he’s trying overly hard to be funny but because you believe he believes those words. You believe that he thinks the phone call for Kevin is a sign. You believe that he wears that same ratty sweater and dorky pair of shorts every day. Helms is also quite convincing, playing a slightly meaner version of his square guy performance that he’s so attuned to playing, and together, their different attitudes play well off one another.
Now, I don’t have any problems with the usage of hand held cameras. It creates a uniqueness that you don’t often see in comedies. And I don’t have an issue with the average Joe comedy plot either; as it too creates uniqueness and a sense of realism. What I do have a problem with are the little bursts of whimsical quirkiness. You know, the kind of stuff that shows up in Indie movies.
An example: at the place of business where Sharon works, someone pulls the fire alarm and instead of getting up to leave as the place fills up, she decides to sit there smiling and taking in the moment as fluttery guitar music plays. Moments like these don’t feel realistic; instead they feel like the Duplass’s felt the need to further drill into our heads the fact that this is an Indie comedy. They already shot it using hand held cameras and it’s about regular people, the use of Indie movie clichés isn’t necessary.
All in all “Jeff” is a slight movie that doesn’t amount to much. It also moves slowly at times but in all honesty that’s not such a bad thing. The whole movie feels so pointless and minuscule in scale. The characters don’t go anywhere, they don’t have to buy alcohol to impress girls at a party or recover their missing friend in Las Vegas. It’s simply just about a guy chasing after a crazy feeling of fate and another having to deal with his failing marriage. And that’s just fine.