Friday, May 4, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Lost in the shuffle in mid March and released without any seeming confidence by Paramount's struggling indie arm, Paramount Vantage, Jeff, Who Lives at Home kind of just came and went.  The sad part is that the film directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) is an affectionate and humane day in the life bittersweet film whose greatest achievement is that of nearly unfathomable surprise.  That the quirky, mumblecore filmmakers-- divisive for sure-- created their richest, smartest and most tenderly conceived characters studies, that of surprisingly substantial emotional impact devoid of sentimental tics, and for it not to be more celebrated feels like a small crime of modern American independent filmmaking.  Perhaps that's over stepping a bit, but there's a wonder and near gracefulness in this sad tale of detachment.  There's also a refreshing and interesting turn related to its performers, all of whom are given something different, and rise to the occasion is such a confounding way.

The Jeff in question is played by Jason Segal, a ne'er do well, 30-year-old man child living in his safe confounds of his mothers basement.  In between bong loads, he starts thinking and obsessing with destiny and the meaning of "it all."  While the nearly flaky archetype of a grown man resisting a normal adult life, pondering and philosophizing the interconnectedness of the universe might appear arch and a bit silly...and truthfully, many of Jeff's ideas are nutty, there's a difference and a subtle humanity to Segal's performance that is never made the butt of a joke, nor defined by only-in-the-arthouse-film-world quirks.  He's a depressed lost loner, and never sought to be a stand-in for a generational divide, merely a sad young man looking to grow.  He's the direct contract to his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), a middling corporate goon who forgot honest communication long ago, replacing it with possessions (his latest prize, a Porshe), while neglecting his wife Linda (Judy Greer.)  Jeff, Who Lives at Home comes full familial circle with Susan Sarandon as the boys mother, a similarly disconnected woman struggling with ambivalence over her sons differences, who gets recharged by a secret office crush. 

To describe the plot of Jeff, Who Lives at Home is almost besides the point.  It reads more often not as though not much happens, but it leads to an honest emotional catharsis, if one is willing to take the leap of bounds of the third act.  Instead it's really a chronicling of a day's adventures in hopes of connecting the disconnected, and the surprising depths of the performers make that possible.  It's almost profound the way that goofy comics like Segal and Helms hold it all back in such a realistic and believable fashion.  It's also nice to see Sarandon rejoice in a role worthy of her superior talents.  What's most surprising, especially coming from a non-fan of Cyrus or The Puffy Chair is the quiet, bittersweet poignancy and restraint the Duplass Brothers bring to Jeff, Who Lives at Home, while keeping their singular brand for the most part in tact; they bring an almost melancholic European art-house sensibility, showcasing a strong degree of wit and happenstance coupled with hard felt emotion, with nary a hint of melodrama or proselytizing.  B+

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