I really get Jeff. I think many people do, but many more won’t admit it.
To a casual observer, Jeff is the worst kind of layabout. An enormous man-child who lives in his mum’s basement, barely seeing the light of day – not contributing to his own life, let alone society. Like in American Beauty, “Look Closer”, zoom in on Jeff’s eyes, he’s elsewhere, he’s pre-occupied with the immaterial, his job concerns the search for answers.
Prominent ambassadors of the Mumblecore movement (Natural sounding dialogue/acting, low budget, less artificial sets – a slightly more Hollywood Dogme 95 so to speak), the Duplass Brothers film Jeff, Who Lives At Home puts a positive spin on a film quietly honing in on the pains of human isolation.
Jeff (Jason Segel), head in the clouds, is wasting his life away optimistically – he’s seemingly naively nihilistic. The themes of fate in Signs have captivated his imagination and from this he’s distilled an ideology wherein one’s time will come to fulfil one’s destiny, just keep looking for the signs. This often drug-induced train of thought is just part of what makes Jeff seem like a waste of skin to his brother Pat (Ed Helms). Pat would tell you his social skills and relationships, including his own marriage, are perfect however in reality he’s more clueless than Jeff. Mum (Susan Sarandon) is starting to hate her life, her family, herself – the years are taking their toll. This is a family that needs to come together.
There’s some masterful directing and storytelling woven into this film. The opening semi-philosophical quote and opening sequence of family photos and monologue quickly establish Jeff’s heady character like a cheap mix of Rear Window and Jane Eyre’s intros. Jeff’s face is filmed in wobbly close-up while his thoughts are narrated, closing us in to his world, helping us understand him; quirky Office-like sharp zooms add to the comedy of it all and reminds us not to take his toilet-thoughts as universal truths. Little things like the state of Jeff’s basement, Pat’s clothes and choice in cars; these decisions made by production design crews are hidden in plain sight but say so much. Tasteful use of handheld shooting coupled with poignant framing on multiple occasions (Brothers in the bathtub etc) establish a very legitimate feeling setting that also helps pump our empathy glands up to 11.
I think the script is pretty phenomenal too. Segel plays a similar gentle, bumbling nice guy to his Forgetting Sarah Marshall gig just with a little less comedy and a bit more heart. The film is very funny, it stars some of America’s best comedic stars too which definitely helps. A particular scene with Helms acting mature to an employee of his in a Hooter’s cracked me up so bad I need a repair. Segel’s face when he thinks he’s seen a sign, a clue from above, also captured comically. Not only do we have comedy, truth, love, lust, pain, hatred, longing etc. running amock about the film but with it being short and moved along nicely by the aggressive my-wife’s-seeing-another-man-let’s-tail-her plot I had no time to lose interest in the story.
I really, really want to watch The Puffy Chair now after becoming a beginner level Duplass brothers fan. This is my kind of film right now as you can guess from my history of reviews, my favourite film of the last few years being Her.
Maybe I’m a little lonely.
Maybe I should start looking harder for signs like Jeff does.