Directed and written by Jay and Mark Duplass and premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Jeff, Who Lives At Home follows slacker Jeff (Jason Segel) who is dispatched from his basement room on an errand for his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Set across one day, Jeff is determined to follow what he believes to be a ‘sign’ about what to do with his life, as he sets off on a journey to find his destiny, leading him to spend the day with his brother Pat (Ed Helms) who’s tracking down his possibly adulterous wife, Linda (Judy Greer).
For what it is – a non-mainstream ‘dramedy’ by the kings of mumblecore – Jeff, Who Lives At Home is an excellently written and directed, laid-back film at its highest quality. The premise is thoughtful and therefore both moving and engaging, making it a very likeable film that often makes you laugh without trying. It’s not perfect by any means, but its ragged edges work as one of the film’s best qualities, using its own imperfections to tell the story of a man desperate to find his destiny in a world he has become lost in. It may not be pushing any boundaries, but there’s a lot to enjoy about this film.
As its main success, the film heavily relies on its performances, which is great because Segel, Helms, Greer, and Sarandon all perform brilliantly. We may have seen Segel play the weed-enthusiast many times before, but here his character is looking for personal growth, a tenderness that makes his character almost relatable for a change, boosting his abilities to be a strong lead in the film. Alongside Helms, who, known for his roles in The Hangover and The US Office, is much more out of his depths, the duo make great casting for these estranged brothers, especially when they come together at the end. Neither give the performance of their careers but it’s a on-screen relationship that works well for all sorts of reasons.
As for the female leads, Greer doesn’t have a huge role but her character is able to build in more of an emotional layer to film, acting as the troubled wife looking to be loved again, which comes close to her role in The Descendants. For me, however, it was Sarandon that excelled, not really for what she did but for the challenges her character was faced with. This sub-plot was a strong quality of the film and the casting of Sarandon in the role was an excellent choice.
Aside from the great performances and story line, the film also has a lovely score running throughout, setting it aside from being just another Segel comedy. This score works in another way by helping to mellow down the humour of what’s going on, with this and the sometimes shaky camera working to give the film an almost indie edge. Whilst some may see this as a negative point, others will agree that it compliments the film really well, as these points come together to make Jeff, Who Lives At Home stand out from this year’s many other comedies.
Whilst it has its flaws, occasionally not going anywhere and sometimes seeming more like a rough cut than a final edit, Jeff, Who Lives At Home makes its points. With a huge focus on fate and destiny, the film doesn’t dive deep in to the subjects but it might get you thinking about your own life a little, whether you live in your mother’s basement or not.