Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff and I have something in common. You see, I too live at home. And since you could define home as “where you live”, so does pretty much everyone else who isn’t homeless. So perhaps the title for Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn’t as clever as it could have been, but “We Need to Talk About Kevin” had already been claimed, so I guess you have to take what you can get.

In this case, the home in which Jeff (played by Jason Segel) lives is also inhabited by his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Jeff is thirty years old with no job and no ambition beyond smoking pot all the time. This usually puts him in a mood to be perceptive to the messages that the universe puts out, and today that message (from a phone call with wrong number) was “Kevin”. But the second message (from his mom) was to get off his butt and fix a broken shutter in the pantry door. This requires little more than applying a little glue to each end and sticking it in place, but they don’t have any glue so he has to go out and get some. And that’s where the adventure starts.

Through a series of coincidences (which aren’t really coincidences, since Jeff believes that everything happens for a reason), Jeff’s path crosses that of his brother Pat (Ed Helms) who just had an argument with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) and thinks that she might be cheating on him. Through a series of Kevin-related and non-Kevin related events, the universe continues to bring Jeff, Pat, and Linda together, even after they try to go their separate ways.

For what is ultimately a very low-key movie in which much of the action simply happens rather than resulting from the actions of the characters, it manages to evoke a pretty wide range of emotions. It’s funny and frustrating and sad and happy. It’s brilliantly written by the Duplass brothers (who also directed), and played perfectly. It relies heavily on coincidence at several turns, but because Jeff’s entire ethos is that there are no coincidences, it manages to pull it off without being hokey or unbelievable, and also without feeling preachy or pushy. It’s very much a “let’s see what happens” kind of movie that really makes you want to come along with it.

If I have any complaints about the movie, it is that one of the story lines seems very disconnected from the others. There are four main story lines in the film: Jeff and the universe, Jeff and Pat, Pat and Linda, and Sharon and a secret admirer. The first three of these are completely intertwined and work together to create the story. The fourth seems to be largely something that happens to Sharon with a significant impact on her, but no real connection to the rest of the stories. While Sharon is an important character for spurring Jeff into action, and to a lesser extent for uniting him with Pat, the subplot with her secret admirer could have been completely removed from the film without damaging it in any way. On the other hand, I do think that if her storyline had been connected to those of the others (which could have been done fairly easily), it would have resulted a much more complete story with fewer loose ends.

Even with a stray subplot, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a completely enthralling and highly enjoyable movie that actually stands up well to multiple viewings (although this does amplify its main weakness along with its many strengths). It’s definitely a film worth checking out if you have the opportunity.