Jeff, Who Lives at Home
3 out of 4 stars
Popping up toward the end of the late '90s art-house boom, the sub-genre known as "Mumblecore" has managed to stay mostly under the mainstream radar while retaining its small but hugely loyal, non-conformist following.
Never heard the term? Remember Kevin Smith's "Clerks" or Richard Linklater's "Slackers?" That's Mumblecore. Smith's "Chasing Amy" and Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" are not. If John Cassavettes was still alive, he'd be hard-core Mumblecore. "Seinfeld," "30 Rock" and "The Office" are kind of Mumblecore TV shows.
Despite its low budget and ideal genre title, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" isn't quite Mumblecore because it has a well-known cast and an actual, albeit scattershot plot. It should do moderately well because three of the cast members currently appear in relatively popular TV shows and another has won an Oscar. If you're a fan of any or all of them, you'll love it; if not, you'll probably hate it.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is the perfect lead character for a Mumblecore flick. He's an unemployed 30-year-old stoner who lives in his mother's basement and rambles on incessantly. While toking on a bong one morning, he gets a wrong-number phone call from someone asking for Kevin and believes it to be a sign. Jeff's big on signs as "Signs" is his favorite movie.
Almost at the end of her rope where Jeff is concerned, his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) calls him shortly thereafter and implores/orders him to get off of his tail and run the most simple of errands for her. While doing so, Jeff sees an additional "Kevin" sign, then another and he's now convinced he's on to something really, really BIG.
While all of this is going down, Jeff's older brother Pat (Atlanta native Ed Helms) is locking horns with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) over money issues. Wearing an Izod shirt (a work uniform) carrying the logo of some fictional low-rent retailer, we're pretty sure Pat isn't as liquid as he thinks he is; something Linda tragically knows for sure. Their shaky marriage -- already close to Def Con 1 -- reaches critical mass when he announces he's just purchased a Porsche.
The last facet of the plot involves Sharon being hit on (via a paper plane and internet instant messaging) by a mystery co-worker. Having not dated anyone since ... well, like what seems forever, the still vital and quite fetching Sharon goes from being mildly incensed to significantly intrigued and is transformed into a lovesick, attention-starved high-school girl.
Co-writer/director brother duo Jay and Mark Duplass -- longtime Mumblecore practitioners -- have concocted a story that, on the printed page, appears as if was written by Jeff or someone like him. None of the subplots seem to mesh with each other and for the longest while they all seem so random, haphazard and cannabis-inspired. Then, late in the second act, it all eventually jells ... sort of.
In accordance with the fuzzy, nebulous definition of Mumblecore itself, the story falls into place in the same manner a square peg can be force-fit into a round hole. The Duplasses cheat a little bit with their ending -- one that could easily be mistaken as something that would be right at home in any underdog/uplift mainstream production. This is great for the uninitiated or those sticking their toe in this genre's odd waters but could alienate the Mumblecore faithful who are used to and want either downbeat or no ending at all. Happy and tidy just isn't their bag, man. (Paramount Vantage)