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Thursday, April 5, 2012 07:14 pm

Jeff finds meaning in the mundane

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Jason Segel as Jeff and Ed Helms as Pat in Jeff Who Lives at Home.

Jeff is relatively harmless. Most slackers are. He spends most of his time smoking dope in his mother’s basement, where he lives, or watching the movie Signs. Yeah, he watches that a lot but there’s a good reason for this. See, he thinks that real life is much like that film, that small clues that will point us to our true purpose are ever-present in our lives. Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but there’s something about Jeff’s adamant belief in this and his puppy dog demeanor that makes you, at the very least, consider it, not so much because you think it might be a possibility but because he’s so sweet. You just don’t want to burst his bubble.

That Jeff does get the sign he’s looking for comes as no surprise in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. However, the fact that this low-key and at times meandering film manages to pack such an emotional punch is making it one of the most pleasant surprises of the young movie year. As written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus), there’s an unassuming quality to the film that’s a perfect reflection of its characters and situations. Their intent is to appear as if we’re eavesdropping on people who are much like us. This creates a sense of identification and empathy with the characters that results in the sort of intimate cinematic experience that’s far too rare.

The event that prompts Jeff (Jason Segel) to rouse himself from his comfortable situation is a wrong number. A stranger calls, asks for Kevin and promptly hangs up after he’s informed no one by that name is at that number. A common occurrence, but it nags at Jeff until he decides to go out and see if he might meet someone named Kevin and see where that takes him. Wouldn’t you know it, upon getting on a cross-town bus, a young man gets on board with this name stitched on the back of the basketball jersey he’s wearing. Well, if that’s not a sign, there never was one, so Jeff gets off the bus when Kevin does and lets fate take him where it will.

Jeff’s journey takes him hither and yon and coincidentally (or maybe not) his path crosses with that of his brother Pat (Ed Helms), whose marriage to his wife Linda (Judy Greer) is in trouble as he’s come to take her for granted and refuses to take certain financial obligations seriously. Ironically, their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is dealing with her own issues on this very day as she’s trying to uncover the identity of a secret admirer at her workplace.

The Duplass brothers keep things moving at a brisk pace, which gives the film a sense of inevitability as if we are, with Jeff, rushing towards some inevitable, life-changing event. They don’t disappoint, as the climax, which involves all of the film’s principals, is a showstopper, a plausible occurrence with an equally likely response from Jeff, whose insistence on waiting for and following an inexplicable sign pays off in a life-altering act. That none of this seems forced adds to the film’s poignancy, as do the sincere performances from all involved. As a result, Jeff resonates and stays with you far after its credits roll, to the point where you may find yourself looking for meaning in the mundane.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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