December 21, 2014

Jeff, Who Lives at Home: Quirky and endearing

Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help families choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new comedy, Jeff, Who Lives at Home.

No two people discover who they are at the same pace. For some, life may come together easily; for others, struggle seems to follow struggle; most of the rest of us fall somewhere in between. We are all works in progress. And we progress at different speeds.

The new comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home invites us into the lives of three people who desperately want to adjust their rhythms of life. One is trapped in a drab cubicle in a routine job with little hope for a better tomorrow. Another is imprisoned in a crumbling marriage burdened by excessive spending and disappointments while the third seeks refuge in a basement filled with television, remnants of the past and easy-to-obtain illegal substances. The movie shares how they each try to get it together; the humor emerges because they are members of the same family.

This quirky, quiet and endearing film wanders its way through these complicated lives without complying with standard Hollywood conventions. Few scenes resort to the “bathroom humor” that fills many new comedies, nor do unnecessary chase scenes or computer-generated effects magically appear. We simply get to know people we might see walking on a street or shopping at a store. They do not bring anything extraordinary to the lives they want to expand. And that’s what makes them so entertaining to experience.

Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, brothers who wrote and directed the film, are curious to discover how such ordinary people might react to extraordinary coincidence. They inspire Jeff, played with relish by Jason Segel, to leave his secluded basement to search for the clues of life that may come from a man named Kevin. They stage a series of coincidental situations to force Pat, expertly crafted by Ed Helms, to confront the weaknesses with which he starts each day. They enlighten Sharon, beautifully portrayed by the marvelous Susan Sarandon, to believe in the happiness she wants to deserve. Through one day in their lives, the Duplass brothers force these people to reconcile the disconnections they foster and the obligations they ignore. And we are asked to consider, while coincidence may explain what we do not understand, is anything in life truly accidental?

What makes Jeff so entertaining is how the Duplass brothers take their time to develop characters without rushing through sequences. They let the film absorb its Baton Rouge location to create the right visual context for the day. And they give their actors room to create fresh performances filled with lovely, spontaneous moments. The characters’ interactions are so truthful, and their abilities to hurt each other so authentic, these family members jump from the screens into any family kitchen.

Not everyone may take to Jeff. Despite its charms, it does wander a bit, and the resolution of the characters’ woes may appear too exaggerated to be believed. But Duplass and Duplass never intend to create a serious film. They create a thoughtful fantasy to remind us that, as much as we may want to speed our lives to happy endings, we all first complete certain chapters.

Film Nutritional Value

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

* Content: High. The characters are fresh, and the situations engaging, filling the film with natural humor and enriching ideas.

* Entertainment: High. This collection of quirky family members is just off center enough to inspire smiles, thoughts and laughter.

* Message: Medium. The Duplass brothers offer just enough of a moral to make us think without overwhelming the natural humor.

* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to look at a family on film, and then look at our own, can refresh.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. We can learn from how the people in the film search for resolution and how they react when they reach dead ends.

(Jeff, Who Lives at Home is rated R for language and drug material. The film runs 83 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets