Friday, March 30, 2012

Life at Home

Well, it's now that awkward time between blockbuster releases. Last week Todd and I saw The Hunger Games, and now this coming weekend will bring the monster-mashing Wrath of the Titans and fairy tale family comedy Mirror Mirror to the big screen. In between, however, there's just not a whole lot of stuff out there to see. I've been pretty good at seeing most of the big releases so far this year, and there's nothing I feel I have to rent right at this second. I only ever use Netflix to catch up on old TV shows, and so pretty mush all of the films I watch these days are in the theater. for that reason. it's a good thing there's always something that slips between the cracks, and in this case that meant a showdown between Best Foreign Language Academy Award winner A Separation and new indie comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Since I'm sure you can all see the poster to the left, you can probably guess which of those films won the coin-toss. This is nothing personal, Iran; I had a small window to catch a film, and Jeff simply had the better available showtime. This was a film that had caught my attention from the first trailer, thanks especially to its all-too-human family who seem to both despise and love one another at the same time. It was one of my more anticipated films for March, so I was happy that I was able to finally fit this particular title into my busy schedule.

"No, thank you, I'm very happy with my long distance provider..."
In this comedy by brother directors Jay and Mark Duplass, Jason Segel plays the titular Jeff, a pot-smoking thirty year-old slacker living in his mother's basement. Forced out of the house on an errand by mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon), Jeff becomes obsessed with the name Kevin, sure it will lead him to something of great importance. Meanwhile, his brother Pat (Ed Helms) is having issues with his marriage, and begins to suspect that his wife Linda (Judy Greer) is having an affair with another man. Finally, Sharon is trying to consolidate her frustration with her children when she gets an unusual surprise, the discovery of a secret admirer who apparently works in the same office that she does.

The look on his face says it all; this won't end well.
When the film first starts, we can learn a lot about how things are going to go. Jeff loves the movie Signs by M. Night Shyamalan, mostly for its idea that everything and everyone is connected in some way, and despite the 2002 film's apparent unevenness and issues, he appreciates how it threaded multiple narratives on course to the "perfect moment" at its climax. Well, what do you know? I just summarized Jeff, Who Lives at Home pretty much perfectly. Jeff takes a long time to find its feet, struggling through some early scenes with Segel that are barely watchable thank to Jeff himself, whose "unique" take on life takes a lot of getting used to. By this time you might feel as though seeing Jeff was a monumental mistake, but I promise you this: it does eventually get better. The show finally gets going when Jeff and Pat collide, as the main plot of the film finally gets around to being told. Pat's relationship issues are so realistic that you would swear they were written by your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, and thankfully it is this aspect that drives the film for much of its narrative, taking a break from the existential mumbo-jumbo that began the whole thing. Unlike the plight of her sons, the story revolving around mother Sharon is never dull or feels astray, and its truly original tale is easily the best part of the whole film experience.

Why, hello creepy man.
The acting is at least good enough to keep things interesting, even when the story doesn't. You would think Segel to be perfectly at home as an oversized manchild, but unlike his usual over-animated roles in How I Met Your Mother and The Muppets, Segel plays Jeff's eternal optimism with a level of sincerity I've never witnessed from the actor. Segel is a big kid, but it's nice to see him stop and ACT instead of merely playing. The result is a nice fit for him, and a side I'd love to see more of in the future. Helms is also great, though he occasionally gets into the screaming mode that has already gotten a bit old after two Hangover films. Still, he gets to perform as a great character and run with it, and every scene with him feels completely honest. Sarandon does a wonderful job as the stressed, depressed mother of two disappointing boys, not a surprise to anyone who has seen her in action. While it might seem like a while since Susan Sarandon has made an impact on the big screen, it sure felt like she still had "it" when given the chance. Judy Greer and Rae Dawn Chong also do great work as Pat's estranged wife and Sharon's office friend, respectively.

She doesn't look a day older than Bull Durham
Unfortunately, the film takes a few too many cues from master Shyamalan in telling the tales of these three relatives. I already mentioned the slow opening, but too many scenes from the middle on feel contrived or simply pointless when compared to the big picture. Jeff especially feels out of place as the story takes off without him, hilarious since he's supposedly the film's titular character. That changes at the end, but even the film's supposed "perfect moment" feels forced, though I do have to admit that I never saw it coming. The film really gives too much credence to Jeff's mystical insight, and wraps up the family feud way too quickly to be truly believable. Still, the interaction between the main characters was great, propelling the material above the farce it could have been. The script could have used some cuts or revisions in some places, but on the whole the story felt sincere in its intentions, at least.

Jason Segel is a BIG man...
It's that sincerity that makes Jeff, Who Lives at Home watchable, if not necessarily good. This was probably a film better suited for DVD than the big screen, as the mindset for enjoying this might be so narrow as to encourage pausing midway through and coming back to it later. You might want to see this if you're really itching for an indie comedy, as long as you don't mind that Jeff is really far more dramatic than your average comedy. Otherwise, I'd avoid it, waiting instead for the new blockbusters coming out this weekend.

1 comment:

julesrules3114 said...

I actually really enjoyed the entire first three quarters of this film, or at least up until Susan Sarandon's office admirer was revealed (awkward & forced, Suze deserved better.)
I enjoyed the begining, watching Jeff go about his peculiar bus adventure & pick-up basketball game.
You wondered where it might all lead.
I agree that the ending tidied everything up a bit too convienently & predictably.