If the new film from Jay and Mark Duplass, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, isn’t considered one of the best films of 2012 by this time next year, I’ll be pretty surprised. The Duplass Brothers, who in the past have created ultra-dry and ultra-dark comedies such as Cyrus and Baghead, have crafted of the most heartfelt indie comedies that I’ve personally seen in years. Sure, the dry/dark humor is still there, but the heaviest layer in Jeff Who Lives At Home is true sentimentality.
Jeff (Jason Segal), who (obviously) lives at home with his mom, begins the film with an impassioned monologue about the M. Night Shyamalan film, Signs. Yes, SIGNS. You’ve never heard someone speak so passionately about that film as you have hearing Jeff talk about it. As I was oddly obsessed with that movie when I was an early teenager, I laughed a lot, but I totally got what he was saying. I understood you, Jeff! The Signs monologue introduces the audience to what ends up being the underlying theme for the entire film, as well as the underlying theme to Jeff’s own life: how every little thing in this world is all connected to one pivotal moment, your fate, and your destiny. So Jeff spends the length of the film trying to follow in the footsteps of Mel Gibson’s character in Signs by trying to figure out his destiny. His first clue? After a wrong number call from someone wanting another person by the name of Kevin, who doesn’t actually live at home with Jeff and his mom, Jeff proceeds to follow any and all uses of the name Kevin in search for answers – with hilarious results.
One of the great things about Jeff Who Lives At Home was how evenly distributed the comedy was with the drama. While the funny bits were extremely funny (the Porsche sequence was a massive highlight), the serious moments were just as effective – if not more so. While Jeff is frozen in place by trying to figure out what the meaning of life is, his brother Pat (Ed Helms), is going through a real rocky period in his marriage. He discovers that his wife (played by the always fantastic Judy Greer) may or may not be cheating on him, leading to quite possibly the best performance that Ed Helms has turned out yet.
At the same time, Jeff and Pat’s mother (Susan Sarandon) has a secret admirer at work, which is conflicting to her since she’s been a widow for the past 17 years, making her feel unsure about herself. It’s a fantastic story line that doesn’t steal too much screen time, but is utilized enough to really invest you. I thought that the conclusion of that particular arc was one of the most genuinely sweet things I’ve seen in the past year. I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes welled up with tears when the big secret was revealed. It was really, really cute.
Just as the movie is coming together and all the pieces seem to be falling into place, you realize that Jeff still hasn’t figured out his destiny. Then the film gets serious – REAL serious – just as Jeff finally does too. It’s such an unexpected but incredibly moving way to end the film, that I feel like I probably shed three different types of tears during the whole thing, and it felt wonderful. As Jaoquin Phoenix’s character from Signs was instructed in the closing moments of that film, Jeff metaphorically “swung away”, and swing away he did.
I honestly feel like this will end up being in my list of favorite movies at the end of the year, and can only hope it connects with countless other people the way that it connected with me. While I feel like some of the dryness and oddness of the humor (such as basing most of your screenplay on the philosophy behind an M. Night Shyamalan flick) might not be for everyone, I still can’t emphasize enough how much heart this movie has. It was such an unexpectedly beautiful film from The Duplass Brothers, that it deserves all the recognition it can get.
I give Jeff Who Lives At Home 5 “Kevins” out of 5.
By Richard Pepper