Friday, 18 May 2012

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME review

The latest from the mumblecore duo known as the Duplass Brothers, the Ed Helms/Jason Segel starring Jeff, Who Lives at Home is now in cinemas.


Asked to run an errand by his mother to buy wood glue, Jeff (Jason Segel), having just received a mysterious phone call looking for someone called Kevin, decides to follow the cosmic signs he sees to dictate his next movements throughout the day. When he runs into his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), the pair get caught up in a comic mystery to discover whether or not Pat's long suffering wife is cheating on him.

Having come a long way since 2005's The Puffy Chair (if not thematically, at least financially), the Duplass brothers are still labelled with the mumblecore tag, but it's getting harder to tell if that's even still a going concern. All of the brightest lights in the mumblecore movement (the Duplass brothers, Greta Gerwig) have become well known in a more 'mainstream indie' kind of way, and for those that haven't, that can largely be put down to a refusal to move forward from (and with) the sub-genre.


Jason Segel and Ed Helms have both recently had some big screen success with The Muppets and the Hangover films, respectively. Personally, I still more readily associate them with the small screen characters they play in The Office and How I Met Your Mother, and neither stray too far from those personas here. I wouldn't immediately put the two of them together if I was casting a pair of brothers, but they fill their character's shoes well. Helms, always able to quickly fly off the handle, is balanced well by Segel's casually spaced-out stoner. There's a good bit of verbal sparring between the two, the brothers having long since grown apart and tired of each other's company.

Had Jeff not ran into Pat early on in the story, this could have easily become Smiley Face without the hallucinogenics. But at heart it is a movie about family, the brothers Duplass channeling the rage and unreasonable behaviour they used in Cyrus and adding Jeff's unwavering belief in a cosmic order against Pat's desperate attempt to uncover his wife's potential infidelity. For all intent and purposes, Pat is kind of a dick. It's easy to spend the earlier scenes thinking he deserves to be cheated on, buying himself a Porsche instead of buying his wife a house.


Of all the movies to read a deeper meaning into, Signs is a gloriously stupid one to choose. The idea that the little girl has spent the entire movie leaving glasses of water around, only for them to become crucial to the family's survival in the finale, is mind-blowing for Jeff. I bet M. Night Shymalan is somewhere right now thinking, "finally, someone got my movie", even if it's a fictional character and a stoner, at that. Jeff is quick to point out the blatantly obvious when he tells his new friend Kevin, "I like weed", but there's more to this movie than its bleary-eyed pothead protagonist. In fact, this could well be the evolution of the stoner movie.

Jeff may spend the first part of the movie following his own path thanks to what may or may not have been a wrong number for a person he's never met, but following the film's unlikely course of events, it's hard to deny that he might be onto something. It's not really about the weed, but the character-building journey that Jeff goes on as a result of it. Having Rae Dawn (daughter of Tommy) Chong in a supporting role might well signify the film's roots in stoner philosophising, but maybe I'm in danger of being like Jeff by potentially reading too much into a film that doesn't ask for it.


Once again a story of brotherly love and family ties, the women in the film (Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer) do get a bit short changed in comparison. You could even say that Sarandon's story of a secret admirer in her office is completely separate from that of her sons, but come the final act the preceding scenes do come a lot more into focus, the relationships between them and their mother's frustrations finally allowed to play out in person. The brothers' story could exist without their mother's, but when the character's do share a scene, Sarandon gets to provide one of the film's best moments with little more than a look.

Perhaps it would have come with a smaller scale finale, but this is pretty much the same movie the Duplass brothers would have made 5 years ago, more than likely with Mark Duplass in the title role. Their ability to remain artistically sound within 'the system' should be commended, and as their careers move forward, it's exciting to see where they're going next.  Sweeter and more life affirming than the Duplass's previous effort Cyrus, despite displaying some seemingly objectionable character traits early on and dangerously vague logic, Jeff, Who Lives At Home has the ability to leave you with an almighty spiritual high.


Verdict

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