Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer & Susan Sarandon
Review Written By: Michael Dalton
Jason Segel stars as the titular character Jeff, who does indeed live at home. While initially appearing to occupy the now common and clichéd character in American comedy, the stoner/slacker male in arrested development, Jeff is much more on the, Our Idiot Brother side, providing a life view that others ought to listen to and take inspiration from. Such a character and situation seems like the set-up for a much more mainstream, Judd Apatow type comedy, however Jeff, Who Lives at Home tells a human story, in a real and relatable manner.
Ed Helms plays Jeff’s estranged brother who is having relationship issues with his wife played by Judy Greer. While Segel is perhaps most comparable to Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother, Ed Helms appears to be channeling the titular character from the original, British, version of the tv show that has made him a star. David Brent in The Office. From his pretentious attitude, right down to the facial hair, Helms is playing a less likable yet much more believable character than the one he plays in The Hangover films.
Finally Susan Sarandon stars as the mother to these two siblings, who finds herself with a secret admirer. These three lives are thrown together in one day of destiny; a day whose actions are driven by Jeff following the signs that life has thrown him. Who or what, is Kevin?
The first five or so minutes, even seconds, of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, are sure to throw many people off. Especially those who have grown sick of the “indie movie” clichés and aren’t particularly fond of M. Night Shamayalan’s “Signs” However as the film develops, it reveals to contain more humour and heart than one would expect. Transcending its apparently predictable, ponderous and pretentious trappings.
In regards to the performances, none of the actors are treading any ground they haven’t trod before, or doing anything particularly challenging. However this is not to say that the acting is sub-standard and Segel and Helms are given the opportunity to go a little deeper with characters that they have played a watered down variation of before. Jason Segel is probably the most likable man in Hollywood, it is impossible to watch him and not wish that he was your friend. In the final moments of this film, he moved me more than he has in any role prior and in true and pure cinematic style, does so silently.
Ed Helms plays his role equally effectively and manages to prevent his character from going too far towards one particular aspect. Susan Sarandon probably has the least interesting character and her performance isn’t aided by the fact that the script doesn’t mine the emotional potential of her character. Her subplot is one that throws a curveball not through the identity of the secret admirer (I was able to predict it) but through the fact that they follow it through in a way that mainstream cinema would not allow. However on the whole, her plot is one that could have been done better and at times seems like a tacked on distraction.
The film requires a certain suspension of disbelief and an acceptance of the film’s optimism and philosophical leanings. In short, if you’re a miserable realist, this film isn’t for you. It would be easy to scoff and look down upon the film when all its strands come together in the final moments, however personally the performances and story had me so invested in the characters, that I went with it and was moved by it. Some have argued that the pace is ponderous and motivation lacking, however I was personally engaged throughout and appreciative of the film’s brisk pace and running time.
In the opening of the film, Jeff says how on a first viewing Signs is a movie which has the ponderous pace this film arguably has and doesn’t appear to make sense, however it ends on this perfect and beautiful moment. In my mind, this film also ends on a perfect and beautiful moment. When the meaning and/or identity behind Kevin is revealed and a piece of perfect and simple symbolism is revealed, it results in one of the most satisfying conclusions of the year.
Ultimately, one subplot (Despite one brave moment which may split some in regards to reasoning) is lacking and not mined for all its worth. However on a whole, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a brisk, engaging and charming experience. The performances are competent, the story simple yet affectingly so and it manages to steer clear of some of the traps others may have fell into with the material. The film ultimately makes the step up through the satisfaction of its conclusion and how much you care about and are invested in the characters.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister, Michael Dalton