“Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe. Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs. Follow the signs, and you will uncover your destiny.” –Jeff
Understand, 2011’s “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is a harmless, unassuming little comedy that should bring a few smiles to your face.
Now, think about the title. You’ve seen the movie, haven’t you? No? Well, you’ve heard of it, I’m sure. No, again? The fact is, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is hardly the kind of title that would get audiences flocking to movie theaters. And it didn’t. The movie cost a relatively meager ten million to make, yet it didn’t even recover half of that at the box office. It was an undeserving fate for a movie that is really quite charming.
“Jeff” comes to us from the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, who wrote and directed it. You might remember the Duplasses from “The Puffy Chair,” “Baghead,” or “Cyrus.” They do small, quirky, indie-type films that, admittedly, have a limited appeal compared to the outrageous, sex-and-smut-filled comedies that have proliferated in the Judd Apatow world of celluloid fun and games.
Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “How I Met Your Mother”) stars as Jeff, a quintessential slacker. He’s thirty years old, single, out of work by choice, living in his mother’s basement, smoking weed. Jeff’s favorite movie is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” because, he says, the film’s seemingly random events all comes together at the end. Jeff wonders about his own fate and his own end, so he looks for signs everywhere. He is looking for meaning, any kind of meaning, in his life, and to that end believes that everything in this world is interrelated. Apparently, he would adore Kiefer Sutherland’s TV series “Touch” if he ever saw it. And fans of “Touch” might like this film as well, since it predates the television show by a year or so and deals in the same basic ideas.
Anyway, Jeff gets a call one morning from a guy wanting to speak with someone named “Kevin.” Jeff tells the fellow he’s gotten a wrong number, but he feels it’s a sign. He becomes obsessed with finding a “Kevin” to see where that sign will lead him, even to following around a kid with “Kevin” written on his jersey and then hopping aboard a “Kevin Kandy” delivery truck. Why does Jeff believe so intently in the power of signs? Maybe it’s because he sees his own life is so empty that he wants desperately to believe there is some cosmic order in the universe that eventually will make everything right. He maintains a naive, stubborn, innocent belief that all things have a purpose, that nature has a universal plan for all of us.
Ed Helms (“The Hangover,” “Cedar Rapids”) plays Jeff’s brother Pat, who is the opposite of Jeff; he’s married, with a job and apartment. But his life is just as messed up, aimless, and empty as Jeff’s is. He’s just bought a Porsche Boxster he can’t afford, and his wife (Judy Greer) is pissed. What’s more, he sees his wife with another man and feels sure she’s cheating on him. He, too, is unhappy.
Then, Susan Sarandon (“Bull Durham,” “Thelma & Louise”), beautiful as ever, plays Jeff and Pat’s mother. She is also unhappy: A widow working in a cubicle office, feeling, as her sons do, that her life is unfulfilled. Furthermore, she has a “secret admirer” sending her e-mails, which both flatters and annoys her. Jeff, of course, sees all of these seemingly random events in his and his family’s life as somehow connected. He might be right.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is sweet, warmhearted, meandering, slow, and most often humorous. Most important, it all seems to work under the watchful eyes of the Duplass brothers, who never let it wander too far astray, never become sentimental, trite, or overly moralistic. And the cast is spot on, each of them contributing little gems of performances.
Some of the movie is silly, to be sure. Some of it is touching. Most of it is gently amusing. Then, we get an ending that is entirely unlikely yet draws things to a poignant conclusion. As I say, it’s a sweet film.
Paramount’s video engineers reproduce the movie on Blu-ray in its native 1.85:1 dimensions using a single-layer BD25 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec. However, because the filmmakers used digital cameras for the shoot, the results are predictably soft and flat. The colors can be odd, too, sometimes bright and natural, sometimes afflicted by a questionably intentional yellowish tinge. The cinematography is typical of so many indie-type films; that is, it’s often self-conscious, the camera often jerking in and out, with lots of close-ups and long, lingering shots. There is not a great deal of detail in the medium and longer shots, some scenes even appearing murky or blurry; yet a few of the close-ups can look absolutely perfect. Therefore, the PQ varies. The screen is very clean, and that’s about it.
The movie is practically all dialogue, so the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has little to do. You get mostly center-channel midrange. A little background musical bloom seeps in at times, unobtrusively, almost silently, and occupies a tiny bit of surround space. Otherwise, the sound is smooth and quiet, and that’s about it.
There’s almost nothing here. The disc comes with a redemption code for downloading a standard-definition version of the film via UltraViolet for your TV, computer, tablet, or Smartphone, the offer ending June 19, 2013. In addition, there are fourteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired. And that’s about it. Incidentally, the disc comes housed in a solid Blu-ray case, not a flimsy, cutout Eco-case.
Who knows? Maybe we are all connected to one another in some way and everything truly is related, after all. That seems entirely beside the point in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” which merely uses the conceit as a plot device to tell a perfectly engaging little story of how people can and should interact with one another. While the film may be Pollyannaish in its sentiments, maybe it really is a good life if we want it to be.
Great movie? No. Good movie? Yes. Even though at eighty-two minutes it is little more than a weekly television episode, it is fun while it lasts.