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Catching Up on 2012: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Jason Segel plays Jeff, a young man searching for himself.  Jeff seems like an intelligent and affable fellow, but when we meet him we also see that he’s something of a lazy bum, and he still lives in his mother’s basement.  Ed Helms (The Daily Show, The Office) plays Jeff’s brother, Pat.  Pat is successful in all the ways Jeff is not (he has a job and a house and a wife and a car), though as it turns out, Pat’s life isn’t so swell after all (not the least of which because his wife, played by Arrested Development’s Judy Greer, might be cheating on him).  Susan Sarandon plays their mother, Sharon.  The film chronicles one eventful day in the life of this family.  In the morning, Jeff gets a phone call at home that turns out to be a wrong number.  But Jeff, a firm believer in destiny, becomes convinced that the call holds a clue to something he should be doing.  He holds fast to this conviction over the course of the crazy day that follows, in which his and Pat’s lives come crashing together.

This lovely little movie made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list, and deservedly so.  I love it.  It’s a very funny film, though it’s not a laugh-a-second joke-fest.  The film is sweet and warm, a tough tone to pull off without being sappy, but writers/directors Jay & Mark Duplass give the film enough edge that the story maintains its bite throughout.  The Duplass brothers and their cast also carefully walk the tricky line of likability.  There’s a lot to dislike about all of the main characters — particularly Ed Helms’ Pat — but they are careful to bring enough humanity and, I’ll use this word again, warmth to all of the characters that I quickly found myself falling in love with the whole ensemble.

Everyone in the cast does superlative work, particularly Mr. Segel and Mr. Helms, who both mine their characters’ sorry lives for big laughs without ever turning themselves into simplistic cartoons.  I loved their chemistry together, and the way in which the slothful, jovial Jeff and the prickly, high-strung Pat bounced off of one another throughout the film was a lot of fun to watch. I also really enjoyed Susan Sarandon’s work in the film.  Her character, Sharon, starts off as just the one-note nagging mom to Jeff & Pat, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see that, by the end of the film, Sharon’s story had blossomed into a journey of self-discovery of her own.  Judy Greer and Rae Dawn Chong round out the ensemble cast, and they’re both pretty terrific as well.

I enjoyed the last film written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Cyrus (click here for my review), but there were certain things about the film that didn’t quite work for me.  With Jeff, Who Lives at Home, though, everything seemed to just click and I was pleased to see the Duplass brothers firing on all cylinders.  These are two artists now whose work I will immediately pay attention to in the future.  (And, by the way, I can’t believe what great work Mark Duplass has been doing this year as an actor, most particularly in Safety Not Guaranteed.)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a real winner.  The film is honest and poignant and also hysterical, and the sharp script brings everything together in a terrific finale that left me with a big smile.  Very few people saw this film, which is a big shame.  This is one worth tracking down.

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