There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The title character in Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn’t seem to mind much that he lives at home. Thirty years old and jobless, he wakes up in the morning and dictates memos into a recorder while on the john. They’re notes about cosmic signs; they’re also notes about the movie Signs. Jeff, you see, believes not in happenstance but in destiny. And he’s sure, sitting around his mother’s basement in sweats he probably hasn’t changed in days, that his is going to be great.
Jason Segel is perfectly rumpled as Jeff, an oversize adolescent somehow both huge and gangly who becomes annoyed when Mom (Susan Sarandon) calls to remind him to fix the blinds because God, Mom, I’ll get to it all right?! but at the moment he’s busy trying to rearrange the letters in “Kevin,” whom a wrong caller has asked for. (“Knive” is one possible anagram, but Jeff wisely dismisses it.) So, plum out of possibilities, Jeff takes the bus money his mother left him to go to Home Depot, only he doesn’t quite make it. There’s a kid on the bus with “Kevin” on his jersey, so he follows him. Later, a candy-delivery truck is emblazoned with “Kevin,” so he follows that, too. And so on, until he gets to where he finally accepts he’s meant to be and what he’s meant to be doing—and that’s not fixing the blinds.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass’ furthest venture away from the mumblecore style they helped pioneer. There’s additional wattage in the form of co-stars Ed Helms and Judy Greer, whose improv skills are so finely honed you can hardly tell they’re making shit up—never mind that the results don’t feel like the genre’s signature bumbling extemporaneousness. (One irritating tic the Duplasses hang on to is a tendency to abruptly zoom in and out on actors’ faces. It’s so real, man.) Pedigree aside, Jeff feels like—gasp—a regular ol’ Hollywood comedy. Besides Jeff’s wanderings, subplots involve the tension between his uptight brother Pat (Helms) and Pat’s wife (Greer), as well as a secret admirer Mom has at her office—a storyline the Duplasses resolve with weak, overtelegraphed twist.
Pat and Linda give the film its real emotional oomph as a struggling couple dealing with possible infidelity. (Even before you even get to know them, you want to strangle Pat when he “surprises” Linda with a Porsche they can’t afford.) Their scenes, as Jeff helps one trail the other, may be semiwacky, but the gist ends up breaking your heart. As far as Jeff goes, just when you think he’s found the Meaning of Kevin, the Duplasses unnecessarily tack on a dramatic but-of-course-this-happens climax.
And yet, despite the many narrative and stylistic downers, Jeff, Who Lives at Home mostly stays a fun time, chiefly on the strength of Segel and Helms’ playful back-and-forth: The laughs ultimately outweigh the letdowns. If this is mumblecore, it’s an example you can shout about.