Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer
Written & Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, Baghead)
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a movie about Jeff, who lives at home. Oddly enough, the story almost entirely takes place outside of Jeff’s home, as he is sent out on an errand by his mother to buy wood glue to fix a broken cabinet door.
Jeff is played by Jason Segel, and is a lazy, pot-smoking hero, the kind of character that can do no wrong in a fictional world such as this. His life is a dead-end, but his mind operates like a true hippy when he ponders things like destiny and fate, as he does constantly. His life’s path is reliant on signs, and the observationt that there is no such thing as coincidences. Everything has a purpose, like when he answers his house phone and somebody asks for a Kevin. He spends the rest of the day contemplating what this name could possibly mean to him.
While out of the house, he follows sign after sign, coincidence after coincidence, and eventually runs into his brother Pat, played by Ed Helms. Although Helms stays true to his unique, nerdy brand of comedy that has made him a star, there is a mean-streak in Pat that made me think the role was better suited for someone like Ben Stiller. Pat is basically Stiller’s “jerk” character infused with the cluelessness of The Office’s Andy Bernard, and Helms never seems to get it consistent.
Pat’s wife, played by Judy Greer (Kitty from Arrested Development), may be cheating on Pat, and the two brothers follow her around town. Mayhem ensues.
Sadly, absolutely nothing in Jeff, Who Lives at Home works. It is a minor miracle that the movie could misfire so badly, given the fact that it stars such a talented and likeable cast of actors. I'm a big fan of Helms, Segel and Greer, but collectively in this movie they bring nothing interesting to the party. Despite a few laughs here and there, there is absolutely nothing about Jeff or his world that made me care in the least about what was going on.
In a sub-plot that seems to be a different movie entirely, Susan Sarandon is the boys’ mother, and is being flirted with by a secret admirer at her office. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, and comes across as fluff…a time-wasting gimmick that is supposed to be furthering the idea that we need to pick up on the signs that are all around us, guiding us. It is a force-fed message that is hammered into our heads all painful 83 minutes of the film.
I am not easily offended, and tend to be very lax when it comes to representations of racial stereotypes on film. But in this film, I would be surprised if the NAACP doesn’t react negatively to the portrayal of African-Americans. The only people of color in the film are street thug muggers, and thieves. When black kids aren’t playing hoops, they are being portrayed in a horrendous light, like when an older black couple tries to profit from and blackmail Pat, when he crashes his Porsche on the couple’s lawn. There are more stereotypes in this film than laughs, and that's a problem.
What is meant to be a quirky and odd comedy in the vein of something by Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach, comes across as a painful exercise in pretention. This isn’t comedy meeting drama. This is a head-on collision that is as lazy and slow as its protagonist.
By the end of the film, the movie suddenly becomes serious and dramatic, but never earns a moment of it. Ed Helms is a great comedian, but wait until you see his cringe-inducing dramatic scene towards the end. How does a movie about a dreamy stoner who never leaves home end with people attempting a dramatic rescue by bridge-jumping?
What is meant to be a film about the importance of signs and coincidences comes across as a bad example of how to over-use plot contrivances. I did see the exit signs in the corners of the theater prior to the lights going down, if only I would have taken this film’s advice and adhered to their meaning.
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