The film isn't laugh-out-loud funny, or nearly as deep as the ideals that fuel Jeff's character, but most of the characters and their various interactions make the journey worthy of a watch
Despite quality performances in a number of fan-favorite films, there are still plenty of moviegoers who've pigeonholed Jason Segel as a lovable go-to-nice-guy for comedy roles. From Gary in The Muppets to Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, not to mention Marshall on the popular CBS series How I Met Your Mother, over the last five years Segel has successfully carved out a comfortable place for himself as a known face in Hollywood's comedy scene.
That said, compared to a long-running franchise like The Muppets, or a string of films with the Judd Apatow stamp, Segel's latest headlining project isn't nearly as high profile. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is the next film from the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark (aka Pete on The League) - who've already racked up a handful of accolades for their 2010 dramedy, Cyrus. Does Segel, along with the Duplass writing/directing team, deliver a evocative and thoughtful character drama in Jeff, Who Lives at Home?
While the film certainly allows Segel to showcase his usual nice guy comedy routine, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is aiming for something deeper - especially since the main character spends a lot of the film trying to make sense of the greater mysteries in life (fate, destiny, and "Kevin"). For the most part, Segel and the Duplass Brothers are up to the task, delivering an intelligent and surprisingly thoughtful film, even if a few moments - and subsequently, some subplots - aren't quiet as successful as Jeff's arc.
The central narrative follows the titular Jeff (Jason Segel), a 30-year-old man who lives (you guessed it) at home in his childhood basement, smoking weed and watching infomercials - that is, until he receives a "wrong number" telephone call asking for "Kevin," a call that Jeff perceives to be a sign from fate. When his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), enlists her son's help in fixing a window shutter for her birthday, Jeff uses the errand as an excuse to find Kevin - which, subsequently, leads him to his estranged older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who is struggling in a failing marriage. Despite entirely different goals and a lot of pent-up sibling tension, the two become intertwined in a day-long adventure - an adventure that, for audiences, is bound to feature plenty of entertaining moments.
As mentioned, Segel is in-sync with the Duplass Brother's script, and successfully delivers a greater range than most audience members will have seen from him. Jeff is still an awkward guy, but there's an underlying intensity to Segel's take on the role that elevates the character above the kind of caricature he might have otherwise been in the hands of someone with less dedication. While it's not an Oscar-worthy transformation, or a role that's entirely outside of Segel's wheelhouse, Jeff will hopefully set the stage for the actor to stretch his chops even more - since a lot of film fans will likely be eager to see more dramatic offerings from the one-time Freaks and Geeks regular.
Ed Helms doesn't detract from the proceedings either - offering plenty of enjoyable chemistry when paired with Segel. However, Pat isn't nearly as nuanced a performance as Jeff - and some TV regulars might feel as though Helms superimposed a lot of his Office character, Andy Bernard, into the Jeff, Who Lives at Home proceedings. It's not a bad turn by any means, and it works well within the framework of the characters in this film - but Pat isn't particularly distinct, compared to the film's other personalities. Sarandon's character, Sharon, is given one of the more interesting and engaging arcs in the film - though her experience is largely set-aside from the main storyline and, despite succeeding as one of the film's better components, comes across as more of a vignette than an actual interwoven thread that compliments (or contrasts) the main Jeff story.
As mentioned, Jeff, Who Lives at Home attempts to deal with some pretty deep subject matter, albeit with a light comedy touch, and the moment-to-moment encounters do come across as "genuine" and are ultimately pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, as the film attempts to make sense of these various scenarios and topics, some audience members may find the conclusions to be either overly-predictable or too convenient to take with any real seriousness. That's not to say that they aren't believable or compelling at face value; however, considering that we have a protagonist who pounds everyone around him with talk of fate and destiny, it's somewhat disappointing that the story never really bothers to say much on the subject.
In addition, the heavy focus on fate (especially without a cohesive message) allows the film to escape dealing with a lot of the physical and emotional havoc that's done along the way - as it can all be dismissed as necessary collateral damage along the path to destiny. The movie is littered with "weighty" scenes that are clearly intended to make a point about love and life, among other topics - but are often used to mask what would otherwise be considered plot holes. While nothing overly-egregious is dusted under the narrative rug, by the closing act it's still going to be unclear (for many moviegoers) what exactly caused a change in the characters - or, in some cases, what they were even searching for in the first place.
Ultimately, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an enjoyable indie dramedy with a number of engaging moments and a solid performance from Jason Segel - one that pre-established fans of the actor will especially appreciate, while non-fans will have a reason to take the guy a bit more seriously. The film isn't laugh-out-loud funny, or nearly as deep as the ideals that fuel Jeff's character, but most of the characters and their various interactions make the journey worthy of a watch - even if certain elements are tacked-on to the larger storyline and the final act is a bit too heavy-handed (or maybe that's just fate, after all?)
If you’re still on the fence about Jeff, Who Lives at Home, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know what you thought of the film below.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is rated R for language including sexual references and some drug use. Now playing in select theaters.
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