Film Review: Jeff Who Lives at Home

This film about brothers by brothers (Jay and Mark Duplass) is a gentle yet spunky comedy for anyone looking for a life direction or feeling trapped in a marriage but still wanting to be in love like before.

Everyone will have their favorite scene in Jeff Who Lives at Home, about a broken fraternal and family bond, by the writing-directing team of brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. For women, it will be the slightly surreal bit when Sharon (Susan Sarandon), a hard-working but very lonely mother of two adult sons, susses out a potential secret admirer by arranging to meet at the office water cooler. She prods and hints, yet when their conversational snippets misfire, it’s a painfully funny moment Sarandon carries off with bravado. For men, their pick may turn out to be the whole movie.

Jeff Who Lives at Home takes place on one day, Sharon's birthday, when the only gift she really wants is for her son Jeff to perform a simple household task. She’s a widowed mother of two very different men—the 30-year-old Jeff (Jason Segel), who lives in the basement of her house, and his brother Pat (Ed Helms), a narcissistic fellow with marital issues who doesn’t much like Jeff.

But Jeff gets easily sidetracked, trying to follow celestial signs on the way to the hardware store. He’s an overgrown slacker who spends his time looking for signals about how to spend his day, and his life. The film begins with a riff on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, but even if you don’t get this reference, Segel’s persuasive portrayal of this irritating but somehow appealing couch potato will ring true. Who doesn’t know a Jeff?

The Duplass Brothers—each as writer and director here—are onto something about men in our culture. They’ve been working this theme for a while, with their indie-flavored films The Puffy Chair (about a failed rocker who has to go home) and Cyrus (Jonah Hill as a man-boy who won’t let go of his mother). With a light touch, they address the serious problem of male misfits and semi-freaks adrift because of the emasculating no-jobs recession, and the ascension of women. A lot of men have been left behind, or feel that way.

Jeff’s problems are obvious: hugely so, considering his puffed-up size which the film uses comically, as he squeezes into restaurant booths and small cars once he’s finally off the couch. Droll semi-slapstick scenes evolve as Pat’s enlists his brother to track a wife he’s suspicious of. Or, as Pat puts it, he wants to find out the truth so he can have the upper hand. Helms, of “The Office,” The Hangover and Cedar Rapids, makes Pat relatable despite his macho-dom, particularly with his ultimate breakthrough speech to a brother he usually disparages: “I wish I could see the world like you; you have a belief in a cosmic order.”

Jeff Who Lives at Home is set in Baton Rouge, which works well for the middle-class milieu of Sharon’s house, the apartment that Pat and his wife (Judy Greer) live in, and a final feeling of waterside freedom in a climactic sequence when all reconnect through a marvelous Neptunian plot device. Rae Dawn Chong acquits herself nicely as a gay woman (told you there was something for everyone) in Sharon’s office, and Greer does a fine job as Pat’s likeable but frustrated wife. And in another showcase moment when Sharon herself gets a little visionary during a sudden waterfall, you see that Jeff may have inherited some of his spirituality.