[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2011 Austin Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s national release. ]
Where the characters of the Duplass brothers’ previous film, Cyrus, felt like they were stuck in purgatory, Jeff, Who Lives at Home resembles a stoner’s vision of heaven. We are all connected and, what’s better, we don’t need a job because we have such awesome moms and weed. Lots of weed.
With their biggest budget and most star-filled cast yet, Mark and Jay Duplass manage to enter into comedy’s major league. The film will garner comparison to the realism of Judd Apatow and the disaster-turned-comedic-spectacle style of Todd Philips, but it still manages to keep the brothers’ unique identity.
Don’t worry: There is a happy ending, this time.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Director: Mark and Jay Duplass
Release Date: March 16
The working world tends to make a man stupid. In college and high school, we are given the time and space to think about life and what’s most important to us. Once we get a menial job in the working world, we become a slave to our work — too exhausted to think when off-duty.
So, you can’t blame the Jeff for making a permanent nest in his mom’s basement, passing the days away with death-defying bong rips and documenting his slacker-philosophy, based on 21st century scribe M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 masterwork Signs.
Jason Segel reprises his role as the easy-going, go-nowhere amiable stoner, last seen in I Love You, Man. Though there is a reflective, soul-searching sadness in Jeff that makes him more akin to Segel’s role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jeff wastes away the day getting stoned, philosophizing over random events, and chasing for an explanation for his life.
As bizarre as it sounds, the film is a parody of Signs. It opens with Jeff documenting his explanation of Sign’s ending — which really shouldn’t need to be explained to anyone — and ends with all of the prior events and characters of the film coming together for one epic moment. A moment that suddenly gives purpose to Jeff’s life. The Duplass brothers have a rare gift for making characters feel convincing despite occupying such a absurd reality. With all the over-the-top comedic scenarios in this much more ambitious comedy, it’s impressive that they keep this trait intact.
For the most part though, Jeff, Who Lives at Home spends the majority of its time portraying the uneasy relationship between Jeff and his asshole brother Ted. While Segel reprises a stereotype he has played very well in the past, Ed Helms (The Hangover, The Office) takes a 180-degree turn in the role of Pat. Pat is everything Jeff is not: pragmatic, selfish, and obsessed with status. The distance between them has less to do with competitive-drive and more to do with Pat just being a complete dick to poor Jeff.
If you ever wanted to punch Helms in the face for being the know-it-all goofball in the early seasons of The Office, you’ll have to hold back seething rage while watching Pat screw-up and arrogantly deny it on a consistent basis. Holmes and Segel are at the top of their game here, thanks in large part to the Duplass’ script full of unpredictable turns and memorable lines. Not since Step Brothers has there been such a hilarious portrayal of sibling rivalry onscreen.
Over the course of the film, the brothers develop a bond through the trials they are put through. Pat is suspicious of his girlfriend cheating on him, and Jeff tags along because, well, that’s just what Jeff does. While Pat is trying to keep the only thing he has going for him intact, Jeff is chasing a candy truck because it must be a sign. The humorous predicaments that the two get in lend the film a broader appeal from past Duplass films, but it still retains a down-to-earth quality that has defined the brother’s catalog. The film never becomes as outlandish as a Todd Philips’ film, but it still has some crossover appeal for Hangover fans.
The Duplass brothers have a signature style, but it’s the writing that has made their career. Like early Kevin Smith, the less the filmmaking gets in the way of a Duplass script, the better. Along with being a much bigger budget project, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is also much more ambitious one. Though the film largely follows the voyeuristic directing style that helped define the “mumblecore” title (which the brothers begrudgingly accept), there are more notable attempts at visual storytelling this time. However, these two styles never really gel — action moments feel underwhelming and the constant zooms are the wrong kind of awkward. The film has a couple scenes that are poetically presented, but it’s the small moments that the brothers continue to succeed at.
If you have been following the career of Mark and Jay Duplass, you may be wondering, “Just how mumbly is their latest mublecore epic?” Not very. If Cyrus was a sidestep toward Hollywood, Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels like a leap. It retains the Duplass’ signature brand of comedy (awkwardness, mainly), and keeps the intimacy that helps their films make a successful transition from comedy to dramedy.
Despite flirting with more scenic set-pieces and bigger-name stars, Jeff, Who Lives at Home still comes from a unique place that only the Duplass brothers could have imagined and it’s their best film yet.