The title character in Jeff, Who Lives at Home is one of those men who has never grown up. He lives with his mother, in the basement, and doesn’t work. It’s not the most original setup, but writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass capture the humor and sadness that the situation calls for.
Jeff (Jason Segal) has one job for the day, and that’s to repair a wooden slat in the pantry door. His first distraction is re-evaluating the signs in the movie Signs, which has inspired him to look for cosmic messages everywhere... like that wrong number guy who asked for “Kevin.” But then his mother (Susan Sarandon) calls and tells him to get moving. He’s on his way to the hardware store when he gets distracted by a kid wearing a basketball jersey with “Kevin” across the back. Maybe it’s a sign?
His brother Pat (Ed Helms), meanwhile, is losing his marriage, largely due to his own ineptness. The fact of his impending divorce is sad, but the details of his handling of the relationship are played for comedy. During a serious fight with his wife, when she accuses him of not listening, Pat’s response is “I’m going to listen to your blabber... OK, go!” Poor Pat, but lucky us. The Duplass brothers are good at funny dialogue.
Jeff and Pat’s paths cross all day long, with Pat’s divorce driving the plot (is that his wife going to a restaurant with another man?), and Jeff’s B-movie spirituality supplying heart, meaning, and cosmic coincidence.
The Duplass brothers have chosen a small-screen look for their film. Closeups are very tight. They keep the camera moving with quick handheld push zooms. It looks like a movie made for TV, and I was glad I sat pretty far back when I saw it at a theater.
I really wasn’t sure where Jeff, Who Lives at Home was going. You might guess from the setup that Pat’s divorce should be resolved and Jeff would be gainfully employed by the end. The Duplass brothers clearly didn’t have anything so conventional in mind. I took Jeff to be the protagonist, and I kept waiting for him to grow up.
But Jeff is more catalyst than protagonist. If there is character growth in the film, it is about the other characters — and the audience — accepting Jeff for who he is, accepting his value as a person even if he doesn’t contribute to the economy. There have always been Shamans who don’t directly provide food or protection for the tribe, but who get to share the feast because of their spiritual connections.
Perhaps Jeff is a modern-day Shaman.