At some point in our lives we all wonder why we’re here, what’s our purpose, do we even have a destiny? In many ways this is the question at the crux of Jeff, Who Lives at Home the new movie written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark. Mark might be familiar to some of you out there as Pete from FX’s The League.
The movie starts off simply with a quote about looking for signs from the universe to help you find your way. This quote is then attributed to Jeff (Jason Segal), a 30 year-old manchild who lives in his mother’s basement while, you guessed it, waiting for a sign from the universe. The first time we see Jeff he’s waxing poetic about Signs, the M. Night Shayamalan starring Mel Gibson. After seeing the movie multiple times, Jeff has seen the beauty and the message of the film and applies that sort of philosophy to the way he lives his life.
This speech occurs while he’s on the toilet.
Over the course of one day, Jeff, his brother Pat (Ed Helms), Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer), and the boys’ mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) all come up against those same cosmic issues in some form.
The day starts with Jeff answering the phone. Someone has the wrong number and keeps insisting they need to speak to “Kevin”. This one call informs the rest of Jeff’s day. After being chastised by his mother to go out and get wood glue, Jeff follows wherever “Kevin” will take him.
It takes him off the bus and into a pickup basketball game, it takes him into a back alley where he gets beaten up, and most importantly it takes him on a collision course with his brother Pat. Pat is having problems of his own; he has been taking his wife for granted and has turned a blind eye to the very real issues in his marriage. Case in point – his wife wants them to save for the house he promised…Pat bought himself a Porche. As the day continues on, Jeff and Pat team up to follow Linda.
As Jeff and Pat are following their own path, their mother Sharon is receiving messages from a secret admirer at work. Having lost her husband 17 years earlier and having the spent the majority of her life taking care of her children, Sharon too wonders about the purpose of her life which she thought would be spent working the Peace Corps and kissing under waterfalls.
All the different storylines come together at the end in one moment when it seems the universe does have a plan after all. It is both extremely reassuring and somewhat frightening for the rest of us. What happens if we don’t see the Kevins in our own lives? Will we follow the signs or wave them away like so many flights of fancy?
Jason Segal and Ed Helms look absolutely nothing alike, but you feel the years of resentment and history between them. Segal has made a career out of characters like Jeff, gentle stoners who eventually figure it out; Jeff has a sweetness and innocence about him that makes him stand out in that list. Helms, who is currently trying to figure out how to fill Steve Carrell’s shoes on The Office, has a tougher character to play in Pat. Pat is, without mincing words, a jerk. He is so caught up in his own insecurity and posturing that he can’t see himself as the world does. But Helms is deft enough that you don’t hate him and just want to shake him up rather than shake him down. Both Helms and Segals earn their resolutions and revelations, as small and as temporary as they might be.
Susan Sarandon has a much quieter role in Sharon, but captures that time when a woman has to look back and wonder if it was all worth it. Her storyline with the secret admirer takes a bit of a different turn, but Sarandon plays it out so that it’s plausible instead of silly.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is worth seeing and worth chewing over in your mind afterwards. Even if Signs wasn’t.