In Home Viewings: "Jeff, Who Lives at Home"

Jeff (Jason Segel) is the kind of guy who is just a little too sweet to make it in this life. A sensitive, trusting spirit, Jeff lives at home (duh) with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), and spends most of his time smoking pot and wandering. He also has an obsession with the movie Signs and makes every attempt to assimilate that movie’s theme, that everything and everyone is connected, into his own life. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) is the exact opposite. A harder man who is always attempting and failing to create a name for himself in business, Pat has little patience for Jeff and his wild ideas about life. Their paths cross one day, however, and soon Jeff and Pat find themselves on a journey together that will lead them both to mutual discovery and an understanding of each other.

Mark and Jay Duplass have spent the last few years building toward a breakthrough, mainstream moment. Their last film, Cyrus, was a solid entry that displayed a bit of maturity behind the camera and fell just short of being a very good movie. As both writers and directors, the pair has a tremendous amount of talent that oozes through everything they do and personally, I believe it’s only a matter of time until they make a transcendent indie film.

 JWLAH is not that film, however, and that frustrated me a bit. Of course, it is unfair to hold a film to my own personal expectations or to demand something of a film that its filmmakers never intended it to be. Still, though, I was prepared for this film to be a major accomplishment and instead it only partially satisfied. When JWLAH is at its best, it truly feels like a day in the life of Jeff, who is brought to life impressively by Segel, who continues to prove what a tour de force he really is. Jeff is a pained soul whose rosy outlook on life is as much a mask for his struggles as anything else but for me, the Duplass brothers don’t go far enough down this road. I felt like there was so much more to Jeff than the audience is made privy to and that sticks out as a symptom of what is wrong with the film. In truth, the fatal flaw here is that JWLAH mires itself in the kiddie pool rather than striking out for deeper waters. As Jeff and Pat scurry about town, I found myself desperately wanting to connect with their stories but coming up empty.

Likewise, the narrative takes its cue from the lack of real character development and often seems to be only an afterthought. There are long stretches of JWLAHthat come across as if Mark and Jay had a great idea for a quirky family drama that plays on the idea of everything happening for a reason and then assembled a great cast but forgot to put much energy into creating a real story. There is nothing wrong with the events of the film but nothing much happens. Mixing that with a sense of shallow character development leaves the film to stagnate when it should push forward and as such, JWLAHbecomes a sort of light, fluffy dramedy that could have, and should have been, so much more than what it is. It isn’t a bad movie or unworthy of a viewing necessarily, it just isn’t completely a capitalization on the currency the Duplass brothers have built up to this point. Here’s hoping their next film hits the mark.