Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I recently bought a new GPS unit for my wife and me when we travel.  We had one that worked just fine but I haven’t been able to get the maps updated since I believe the company that made it has gone out of business.  The need to update the maps became evident when while driving to a friend’s house that lives well off the beaten path the old GPS showed us driving through a field and the computer voice kept telling us to make a U-turn at the next available location.  I knew I was on the right path whether the machine that was tracking three or more satellites agreed with me or not.  We got where we were going despite what the GPS said.  I’ve known people who were like that.  They didn’t pay much attention to what those around them said they should be doing with their lives and most of them managed to get where they needed to be going.  For many, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  Such is the case with the hero of this week’s movie, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”
 
Jeff (Jason Segel) lives in the basement of his mother’s home.  Jeff is 30 and has no ambition beyond getting high.  He’s waiting on a sign from the Universe to guide him to his destiny.  His mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon) works in a non-descript cubicle in a non-descript office doing…something.  Her daily grind is interrupted by an instant message from an anonymous admirer in her office.  This mystery person is flirting with Sharon and she’s enjoying it.  Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) works for a paint company and is married to Linda (Judy Greer).  They are saving to buy a house but Pat has gone behind Linda’s back and bought a Porsche.  When Sharon sends Jeff on an errand to buy wood glue to make a minor home repair, it sets in motion a series of events that could mark the beginning of a relationship, the end a marriage and the start on a path to meaningfulness in Jeff’s life…or maybe not.
 
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is one of those little boutique films made with fairly well-known but not A-list actors that does well at various film festivals and gets a very limited release.  The directing team of brothers Mark and Jay Duplass have assembled such a group of actors and filmed in and around their hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The pair makes movies that are not designed to do huge box office numbers (not that they’d mind if they did) but they hope to reach the audience deep in their souls, to touch them on a very personal level.  In that regard, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is a rousing success.  As I watched the film I felt I could, to a limited degree, understand what the title character was going through.  He has no idea what he’s meant to do with his life.  His father died in 1995 and he’s been locked in a kind of emotional purgatory ever since.  He cannot grow into an adult so he does what he probably did as a moody 13-year old; sit in the basement, watch TV and smoke pot.  Everyone has that period where they feel lost and misunderstood.  Most of us grow out of that fairly quickly.  Jeff hasn’t.
 
The film does a good job of establishing each character’s personality as they are introduced.  Jeff is the slacker.  Sharon is the high-strung mom who is losing patience with her slacker son.  Pat is a narcissist who believes he’s deserving of an expensive toy despite what his wife thinks or the effect it will have on their plans to buy a house.  It also is good at manipulating us with these and other characters.  The movie plays the emotions of the audience like a guitar:  Plucking our heartstrings and strumming our feelings of empathy and sympathy.  They also hit the wah-wah peddle a time or two as Jeff tracks down what he believes are signs from the Universe.
 
Where the film falls into something of a predictable formula is when the number of coincidences and twists of fate builds up and is repeated throughout the story.  Soon it becomes obvious the film is building to an “event” that will make everything Jeff and Pat go through make perfect sense.  This is accomplished with an out-of-left-field tragedy that, due to yet another fortunate bit of happenstance, brings everyone together with the understanding that they are a family that loves each other.  While it works for the heart, the head is in a little disbelief.  It all comes together far too perfectly and turns what is a very good emotional, yet humorous film into something of a joke on the audience.
 
The film also uses what is becoming something of an overused story where one character that is deemed a loser by his family turns out to be the one who has everything figured out and those around him are the ones who are truly lost.  It would be great if we could all just sit around, get high and contemplate what the Universe wants us to do; however, I have a mortgage and other bills.  I like having running water and electricity and I want the people who keep up those systems to keep doing that work.  I may be shallow but I dare most people to go more than a couple of days without a working toilet and see if the simpler way of life is really all it’s cracked up to be.
 
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is rated R for language, some drug use and sexual references.  We watch Jeff smoke pot a couple of times.  There are scattered sexual references, some used for comic effect.  Foul language is scattered.
 
I was surprised when “Hunger Games” not only didn’t win the movie poll this week but didn’t even get one vote.  I suppose that means people don’t necessarily have to see the most advertised movie that week, just the one that sounds the most interesting.  I thought “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” sounded like a pretty good film and for the most part I was right.  While it’s manipulative and becomes predictable the deeper you get into it, it also will make an impression on your heart.  Jeff may be a loser, but he’s also a sweet guy that’s just trying to find his way.
 
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” gets four guitars out of five.
 
It’s all fantasy at theatres this week.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
 
Mirror, Mirror—Snow White is a princess in exile, and the evil Queen rules her captured kingdom. Seven courageous rebel dwarfs join forces with Snow White as she fights to reclaim her birthright and win her Prince.
 
Wrath of the Titans—A decade after his heroic defeat of the monstrous Kraken, Perseus - the demigod son of Zeus - is called upon in the struggle for supremacy that rages between the gods and the Titans.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions and comments can be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.