Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I am going to cut to the chase in regards to my review of Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  Either it was a horrible piece of filmmaking or I absolutely did not get it.  If you’re a betting person, put your money down on the latter, because from start to finish this movie feels like a very poor man’s Our Idiot Brother sans any laughs whatsoever.  And as I was watching the film, eagerly anticipating a wit-inspired chuckle here or a gut-buster there, I realized that the writer and director team of Jay and Mark Duplass were cleverly trying to educate the viewer with some existential lesson on life, love, and happiness buried into the subtext of their plot.  The problem is that their message was complete nonsense and their delivery neither clever nor subtle. 

The gist of the plot is that everyone in the Thompkins family has an unsatisfying life.  The patriarch of the family died at forty-four and some fifteen years after his passing we find that his widow (Susan Sarandon) is a lonely single mom in need of companionship; his oldest son (Ed Helms) is a complete douche with marital problems and a midlife crisis, and his youngest son (Jason Segel) is an idiot who lives in his mother’s basement.  Fortunately for this family, Segel’s Jeff is actually an idiot savant who on his fate-guided path to find " a KEVIN" and enlightenment just might be able to resurrect his family from the malaise of mediocrity.  If that doesn't sound funny, then you're getting the picture.  Even if you make the assumption that the movie was poorly marketed because of the presence of Segel and Helms and frame it as a dramatic piece, it still fairs poorly.  The plot fails to flesh out the depths of apathy and resentment that have gripped this family to create any true sense of catharsis in the final act.

As for the cast, Segel absolutely sleep walks through this film, but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it may have been by design.  I am guessing it was his attempt at playing quirky though the problem with that approach is that he's not Zooey Deschanel so he can't pull off that kind of quirky.  Ed Helms does a great job exuding utter low rent douchebaggery.  It’s too bad the thinness of the script makes you not care, and care even less that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him.  Susan Sarandon adds very little value in her role as the lonely mother and the slight plot twist with her character arc can be seen coming from a mile away.

I want to say that the movie unravels at the end but really that happens right from the start.  The best thing that came from seeing this film is that the staff had technical issues with the projector and so the fine people at AMC gave everyone in attendance a free pass.  Without the promise of a free movie pass, I can't recommend a film that starts with everyone’s life completely sucking at the outset and then sucking a little less at the close.  This may be an attempt to authentically portray real life in the eyes of the filmmakers, but for me it takes a more than a mysterious Kevin, a bad goatee, and a lesbian turn to call something entertaining (believe when I tell you that last sentence made the movie sound far more interesting than it is).  In lieu of this film, rent Our Idiot Brother – similar concept with better writing and acting.

Standout Performance:  Judy Greer.  Her characters tend to be loud, obnoxious, and/or neurotic, but in this film she hits the right notes of desperation and it makes you sympathize with her in as much as one can with an adulteress.


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