Friday, April 20, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives At Home - Theatrical Review


Release Date: March 16, 2012

I had zero expectations for this movie despite liking its entire cast. What did I end up thinking about it? I liked it for the most part and I think you will too.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Phoenix Big Cinemas Dos Lagos Stadium 15
Time: 10:10 pm April 7, 2012
Projector Type: Film 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 23 min
Studio: Paramount Vantage

Loves: Jason Segel, movies that take place over the course of one day
Likes: Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon
Neutral: Independent movies that try to look independent
Hates: Nothing
Where the hell has she been?: Rae Dawn Chong

This is a comfortable movie. This is the type of movie that you would take home to meet your parents after a night out together. I have often heard the term "warm blanket of a movie" used for other films that just warm the heart and I think that fits perfectly with the type of film experience that is Jeff Who Lives at Home (which hence forth will be referred to as JWLAH). It will not blow you away with some life altering concepts or have you howling in laughter at many of its jokes but that's OK. We don't always need something that is manufactured to tickle our funny bone or throw life lessons our way and while JWLAH certainly does those things, I never got the feeling that I was ever being manipulated. Stories don't get more simple than this and there is something to be said for a film that isn't bending over backward to make itself standout from the rest of the crowd. It is content being a small story with mild ambitions and I was more than happy with the results.

Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home with his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). He isn't what you would call a very active person. As a matter of fact he has literally no friends to speak of and doesn't even speak to his brother Pat (Ed Helms). He does however harbor a strange love for the film Signs, a film he loves for its underlying theme of how things don't happen by chance, that there is a reason for everything. Then one day he receives a phone call from a stranger asking to speak to someone named Kevin, someone that Jeff doesn't know or has even heard of before. Taking this as a sign he embarks on a journey to find this mysterious Kevin in hopes that he will find an answer to one of life's biggest questions, what am I here for?

Jeff and Pat question their place in the world.

This is a family drama about typical family issues at its core. Although Jeff stands alone in the title of the film it is more about one particular day where he, his brother and his mother's lives encounter life changing moments. When we meet them they aren't exactly having the best of luck. Their lives are coming to a head with Sharon threatening Jeff with the possibility of being kicked out because of his inability to do one of the most simple chores of all time, Pat is discovering some unfortunate truths about himself while dealing with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) and their marital problems and Sharon in the meantime is busy holding down a humdrum office job. The rest of the film comprises of us getting to see how their lives intersect and effect each other as the day moves forward...and that's it really.

The film relies heavily on its characters and our ability to connect with them on some level which is always a risky proposition for any character based movie but more so for this one. That's because there isn't really anything of any real significance that occurs in the film which may sound bad when I put it like that but I guarantee that if you get into these characters lives and find them as fascinating as I did that you wouldn't mind watching them run around town searching for someone named Kevin for no apparent reason. The aimlessness and sporadic nature of the film is one of the things I liked most about it because it doesn't seem to follow any real conventional rules besides the basic problematic lives of its characters and their resolutions. It is a somewhat predictable outcome but how it gets there is completely unpredictable.

Linda isn't very happy in her marriage with Pat.

The key of course is in the casting with movies like this. I will say right now that if you have even the slightest dislike for either Jason Segel or Ed Helms that this movie isn't for you. Jason Segel has really grown on me over the years. Between his role on How I Met Your Mother, his turn in the leading role for the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the recent iteration and resurrection of The Muppets that he championed,  I think it is safe to say that I am a huge fan of his by now. Segel owns this movie, with his usual laid back and carefree nature he just embodies this character to perfection. It may be easy to label his performance here as somewhat safe in comparison to many of his previous efforts but I tend to think of it as him embracing his natural ease at playing a person who is down on his luck and is looking for answers where ever he can find them. He just makes you want to give the guy a big hug and tell him everything is gonna be alright.

Ed Helms on the other hand is not quite so easy to like as Jeff's brother Pat. Clearly disillusioned to the fact that his marriage is crumbling before him, he comes off as overly selfish and somewhat of a prude. That is what Helms is good at though, the character plays to his strengths as an actor. You want to write him off as an uncaring prick but there is something underneath his narrow minded personality that makes you believe there is a good person in there somewhere, that he has just lost his way somewhere along the way. He just needs to be redirected to get back on track. Just like Segel, this role isn't much of a stretch for Helms but in both their cases I think this is a prime example of two actors who are playing to their strengths instead of just playing it safe and sometimes that works out which it did in this case.

Sharon tries to unravel the mystery behind her secret admirer.

The three female actors are more or less relegated to supporting roles but still each have their moments to shine. I have always liked Susan Sarandon and it feels like an eternity since I have last seen her in anything so it was a pleasant surprise to see her again. Even though she is never actually in any scenes with Segel or Helms she never the less felt perfect in the role as their white collar job mother who is in some serious need of fun in her life. Judy Greer, an actor I absolutely adore and wish we'd see more of, as Helms' neglected wife was perfection per usual. Then there is Rae Dawn Chong...what? I think the last time I saw her in anything was circa the 1980s. It was nice seeing her again even though she had a very minor but somewhat pivotal role. While I don't think any of them did anything that will garner any awards unfortunately, all the actors did fine jobs in their respective roles and all seemed to have their heart in it which came across as feeling very genuine.

They all have their moments to shine as well. When Ed Helms discovers that his wife may be cheating on him he partakes in a series of humorous events such as him spying on her while she is having lunch with a mysterious man and how he manipulates his brother into infiltrating the restaurant to listen in on the conversation. Susan Sarandon has her own little story going on that will tug at the heartstrings of even the most jaded people as she continues her pursuit to discover the identity of her secret admirer. Even Judy Greer gets a really powerful moment later in the film where she finally confronts her husband about his childish antics and how hurt she is by consequence of his neglect which just kind of blew me away. The funny thing here is that Jason Segel didn't really have any stand out moments, his journey was always a joy to witness but aside from a moment between him and Helms' at their father's grave he never stood out which I feel was actually a good thing. His emotional release comes later in the form of an unexpected event which provided plenty of character growth to make up for the lack of any sort of revelation or key moment earlier in the film.

Jeff is in constant search for his true life calling.

Which leads me to the theme of the film, fate. The film opens with a monologue from Jeff in regards to the movie Signs, a movie that he takes VERY seriously. So seriously in fact that he forms his life around anything that fate drops in his lap which for this one particular day is a random phone call for a mystery person named Kevin. That one call is what dictates the rest of his day as well as the people whom he comes in contact with. This is where your mileage will vary, if you don't find Jeff's journey compelling or can at least relate to it in some way then much of what happens will probably bore you. As for me, well I was fully on board with Jeff as he sought out what he believed to be his true calling from beginning to end. The funny thing is that I am not even someone who believes in destiny or fate all that much, yet I found myself becoming a true believer simply because of Jeff's tenacity towards this magical destination he thinks is waiting for him. Even if you don't find yourself caring all that much about Jeff himself I can't imagine anyone not at least understanding his passion to find some sort of meaning to his existence. We all want to believe we are meant for something more and Jeff embodies that.

I think that is what I took away most during my time with JWLAH. That sense of feeling like you are meant for something more and that moment of discovery when you realize that you ARE needed, that you ARE loved and that no matter what happens in life there is always a way to make things right again. I think it is overselling it a bit by calling the film inspirational but I definitely had my spirits lifted while leaving the theater. I really enjoyed my time with JWLAH quite a lot. I liked all the primary cast and feel under its spell quite easily. My reverence towards the film may just be a result of me having little to no expectations for the film or just being in the right mindset for it at the right time but the end result is that I came away pleasantly surprised and emotionally cleansed by the film and suggest that if you wish to discover what fate has in store for you that you give Jeff and company a chance and...




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