Film review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Indian Paintbrush, Jeff Brothers Productions, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films

STARRING Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon
WRITTEN BY Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
PRODUCED BY Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, Jason Reitman
DIRECTED BY Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass

SHOT BY Jas Shelton
EDITED BY Jay DeubyMUSIC BY Michael Andrews
DISTRIBUTED BY Paramount Vintage

Screened 2012-03-08

Jeff (Jason Segel) is an unambitious 30 year old pothead who lives in Susan Sarandon’s basement, if Susan Sarandon was doing little more than working in an anonymous office in Baton Rouge. Jeff cannot so much as evacuate his bowels without reading the tea leaves left in the bowl for a glimpse into his destiny – a destiny whose patterns consume all of his waking attention. And he couldn’t be more different than his myopic shithead brother Pat (Ed Helms) who never listens to a word another person says and somehow can afford a porsche while only working in a print shop. This man literally throws away his marriage, his life, for this caprice, and he proceeds to crash it mere hours later in an act of, really, unfathomable idiocy. This, however, is quickly forgotten as Pat spies his wife (the cutely shrill Judy Greer) in the company of another male and, you guessed it, goes on a romcom tear of amateur stalking with Jeff in tow, Jeff predictably doing the “whoa, relax, man” routine to loosen him up. Juxtaposed to this story is Susan Sarandon sitting at her computer in her cubicle, and we watch as IM messages come to her and she scrunches her face to decipher them. In real time. That’s about 50% of her part of the story (we have officially entered an era in which we will be seeing a great deal more digital text exchange before our collective eyes). By the end of the film “destiny has revealed its plan” to each character and Jeff is contented that his stuporous sagacity has not led him astray. Of course, he was always totally confident (or, cough, oblivious), so it’s not so much a victory as a quiet moment of awe at the existence of the supernatural: mumblecore transcendance.

Perhaps the most admirable quality of mumblecore filmmaking is the total denial of pretense. Perhaps it feels like the filmmakers have never so much as picked up a novel because, well, they haven’t, or rather, the notion of “classical” anything or “formalism” has never resounded. A mistrust of authority?; “History may say Great, but I will form my own opinions.” Essentially hippie/hipster thinking, not without merit. Mumblecore mentality involves forging as much of an original path as possible and is highly intuitive. Frankly, I’m the last person who should be talking about it. But these are filmmakers of my generation, and I may end up working with one or two before I’m through. Now, that said: it’s dispiriting to see the Duplass brothers at work. The barest semblance of a narrative functions as story, these men somehow convinced they can write worth a remote damn. You get the impression they only know television, all input, all inspiration stemming from here, where standards are incalculably lower than history’s progression of narrative fiction (in fact, I’d say mumblecore is not interested in history, which makes me quite dismissive of mumblecore). 83 minutes of limp “realism” is somehow marketed to the masses. Profit is inevitable as it’s plainly evident that the film was made for nothing – the only costs are marketing, really, and a big check for Susan. Did I mention this film’s screening didn’t begin until the audience reached under each theater seat to retrieve a gift certificate from Hooters?

I knew before endeavoring into this review that my main hurdle would be avoiding a universe-ending bang of denial and criticism, and simply talking about what works and what doesn’t. What works? Well, you can tell that certain scenes were backlit. There was a wardrobe supervisor who fulfilled some basic duties. There’s a technique I can only call the “unmotivated abrupt zoom” which is used in almost every single shot in the film. It’s very odd to watch on a huge screen a film that is comprised largely of shaky close-ups, more evidence that BoobTubian is the only language spoken here. Actor preparation? Something less than extensive, these men could’ve walked onto their “sets” five minutes prior; I guess it’s really just a matter of already liking Segel and Helms and giving them opportunities to riff. It doesn’t get the viewer worked up, so if you’ve had a terribly stressful day and want a film which will allow you to relax, well, here you are. For less money you could sit on a park bench, get some fresh air and natural light, and clear you head – in fact, you could do that for free. And see where the wind takes you! I know Jeff would approve.

So Jeff, Who Lives at Home might make sense if the Duplass Brothers were putting out a dozen films a year, were nonstop racehorses of pure realism. Instead they are presented more as potheads who, like, find things kinda fascinating, man. To give an audience less than it can expect on network television… if there is a crime being committed, it is with the marketing (and it is less than surprising that Jason Reitman produced). Thanks largely to the caprice and distraction of materialism, it’s become hard work to remain excited about film; quality has become an esoteric niche. It was inevitable after the advent of video production, market saturation, etc. It happened with the printing press, with pornography, video games, etc. Power has been given to the masses, and it means we’ll all have to work harder. Much, much, much harder.

written by David Ashley