Strong acting drives stoner/family comedy. 

Jeff Who Lives At Home, the latest zoom-crazy, handheld-camera mini-epic from writer-directors Mark and Jay Duplass, isn't very funny. But that's fine. Even though it's billed as a comedy, the film could be more aptly described as a non-tragedy or a classical Greek comedy about a laughable person whose blunders seldom cause real pain. Whatever it's supposed to be, Jeff Who Lives at Home is a brisk, well-executed, and deeply satisfying follow-up to the Duplass brothers' 2010's man-child psychodrama Cyrus.

Jason Segel plays Jeff, an unemployed 30-year-old whose life has been put on hold. Jeff is a genteel stoner and obsessive rewatcher of M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 film Signs who believes fervently that everything happens for a reason. Because of this belief, Jeff is particularly — maybe unnaturally — alive to life's chance encounters and coincidences in a way that the rest of the film's characters aren't. And part of the film is about Jeff's attempts to impart this cockeyed sense of synchronicity to the other members of his family, particularly his thoughtless, boorish brother Pat (Ed Helms).

I've never thought much of Helms' priggish on-screen persona until now, but his performance as Pat is a bitter treat. Pat's narcissism and loathsomeness is immediately convincing and immediately repellent; this is the kind of guy who's never laughed at anyone's jokes but his own.

The actresses in the film are also particularly fine. As Pat's wife, Linda, Judy Greer keeps her head down for much of the film until she cuts loose with a speech about marital frustration that's simultaneously honest, passionate, and futile.

Susan Sarandon, who plays Jeff's mom Sharon, may be the best performer in the film. As a defeated mom who's given a second chance at life, Sarandon's eyes and body language show how even the slight possibility of romance transforms people of any age. Sarandon's submission to an unorthodox, potentially dangerous declaration of love while sitting in a cubicle while the sprinkler systems drench her is the film's romantic high point.

While it's true that this aimless story does end with an almost unnatural tidiness, Jeff Who Lives at Home both earns its happy ending and shows most of these struggling characters at or near their best.

If the story and performances are so winning, though, then why, thanks to the Duplass brothers' constant zooms and reframings, does the film still look and feel needlessly jumpy and unsettled? These zooms happen in every Duplass film, and I have no idea what they mean. There are some compelling theories: Critic Chris Fujiwara has claimed that these zooms are about "a psychologized, relational space that opens up or shuts down" and "provoke a sense of intimacy and tension, of nervousness and isolation," while The New York Times' A.O. Scott thinks the zooms function like an eye-rolling or eye-raising spectator. Still other critics maintain that, no matter why it's done, it looks really stupid.

On the other hand, I wasn't bothered by the zooms very much this time. And maybe that's their point: A zoom should not mean but be.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
Now playing
Studio on the Square

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Rated R · 83 min. · 2012
Official Site:
Director: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Writer: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Producer: Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith and Jason Reitman
Cast: Jason Segel, Susan Sarandon, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong, Katie Aselton, Joe Chrest, Lance E. Nichols, Deneen Tyler and J.D. Evermore


Now Playing

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is not showing in any theaters in the area.

What others are saying

  • Comments

    Subscribe to this thread:

    Add a comment

      • Lucy in the Sky

        Natalie Portman suffers from interplanetary ennui in this "sadstronaut" movie.
      • Joker

        Joaquin Phoenix stares too long into the abyss in Joker.

    The Latest

    We Saw You

    Bluff City Law Characters Party with Bluff City Characters

    News Blog

    MLGW: Power Restoration Will be Multi-Day Process

    Film/TV/Etc. Blog

    Music Video Monday: Louise Page

    From My Seat

    National Baseball Day

    Politics Beat Blog

    Anatomy of a "News Tip"

    Tiger Blue

    Tigers 47, Tulane 17


    More by Addison Engelking

    Readers also liked…

    • Death Grip

      Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
      • Apr 19, 2018
    • Annihilation

      Director Alex Garland sends Natalie Portman deep into the unknown
      • Mar 2, 2018
    • Ready Player One

      Spielberg mines the past and present in this virtual adventure
      • Apr 6, 2018
    © 1996-2019

    Contemporary Media
    460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
    Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
    Powered by Foundation