We’ve all had a stranger call our house with the wrong number, but has an errant phone call ever changed the course of your life? Perhaps not, but the screenwriting and directing duo of brothers Jay and Mark Duplass strongly beckons you to consider that maybe if you listened to a wrong number call more intently, or observed the world around you with hawk-like awareness, then you would see signs that would guide you to your true calling. A movie laden with philosophy, Jeff, Who Lives at Home delivers this message of the Duplass’ with conviction, thanks to witty writing and spectacular acting.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty-year-old living in his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. Jeff is unemployed, single, and likes to smoke pot. He is a firm believer that everyone has a destiny, and that you must always be on the lookout for any signs that will steer you to that destiny.
When a man calls asking for Kevin, Jeff tells him that nobody by that name lives at his mother’s house. The name “Kevin” sticks with Jeff after he hangs up the phone. He believes it is a sign, something he should pursue.
Forced out of the house by his mom with instructions to buy wood glue, Jeff sees a man wearing a basketball jersey that says “Kevin” on the back. He impulsively follows this man. Soon more clues related to that name pop up, and Jeff doggedly follows each one until he bumps into his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), at a Hooters. Jeff and Pat haven’t been close since their father died when they were teenagers, but they reunite in an effort to see if Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer), is cheating on him.
The real treat of this movie is the way it is casually and deeply written. Jeff is created as this guy who is drifting through life, but he’s aware of this and is looking for a meaningful path to take. When he latches onto the name “Kevin” with a fierce certainty that it is the right thing to do, I found myself quickly doing the same, even though it seemed ridiculous. The reason I was able to follow Jeff on his quest is because I can empathize with him. He’s a nice guy; somebody I want to get to know better.
Jeff’s quest is amazing. The Duplass brothers follow one random occurrence with another like quick-thinking magicians. Seeing Jeff run around town, following things like a basketball jersey and a candy truck is not an exhilarating thrill ride, but it is an intriguing ride. I couldn’t wait to see where the Duplass’ would pull Jeff to next, what characters Jeff would interact with and influence. I felt like Jeff’s own destiny was looming around the corner, maybe crouching behind a dumpster or a tree. With each step Jeff takes, you can sense he’s getting closer to finding what his role in this world is, but when the Duplass’ finally reveal what that role is, I was floored.
The people in this movie have a real-life, flawed flavor. The cast walks a fine line between laughter and depression, and they’re able to provide both funny and emotionally crushing moments. Segel marches through the streets with dark circles under his eyes, messy, unwashed hair, and a generous beltline (I think he’s carrying more weight here than in his other projects). Even though Jeff says many things that make you giggle, he is still a sad man who is lonely and feels lost, and Segel wisely never forgets that. There are fleeting moments when Segel will crack a smile, but for the most part he is perplexed and frustrated by the world, and his grim expression reflects this belief.
More of a supporting man, Helms shows real range here as well. Flashing a toothy smile, Helms nails the depiction of a guy who appears okay on the surface but is desperate on the inside. In Pat’s case, that desperation is aimed towards making his marriage enjoyable again, and Jeff helps bring that energy out of his brother and target it in a positive way. This process isn’t a smooth one. Pat is so sure that he has it all figured out that he can’t stand the thought of his stoner brother giving him advice. This pride causes a few arguments between the brothers. These altercations are fierce, cringe inducing spouts of hatred. Helms barks insults at his brother while on the verge of sobbing uncontrollably: a departure from his role on The Office.
Not to be outdone, Sarandon is convincing as a stern woman who is looking for happiness in a life that’s been cold since her husband passed away. Greer is also very good in her role. Although she is possibly cheating on her husband, Greer is not depicted as evil. She is simply exhausted with her husband and is doing something to feel better. Greer’s dialogue is fascinating, as it establishes her point of view of a crumbling marriage.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is thought provoking, well acted, and sincere. Its characters are flawed, but that’s what makes them so relatable.
I give this movie four and one-half stars out of five, or, an A-.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is rated R, has a running time of 83 minutes, and was given a limited release to theaters across the United States on March 16, 2012.