As long as the top financial percent of the American population continues to blatantly gobble up the middle and lower classes, audiences will probably see more, particularly low-budget, films concerning adults who’re intelligent and talented in fashions (read: artistic) that society at large deems to be essentially irrelevant. Primarily aimed at Generation Y, these films attempt to address an uprooted feeling, whether justified or not, of hopelessness that these folks at least partially believe to be imposed on them by the greed or indifference of their parents, which is ironic considering that their parents or grandparents were probably once young adults who felt the same kind of rage toward their elders. But there’s a difference: the films that defined the uncertain American climate of the 1960s and 1970s were often passionate and enraged, while the films aimed at contemporary young adults are so far more sedate and quietly despairing.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home announces that despair front and center with its title, as if to say that, yes, of course, Jeff lives at home, what else is he going to do? The film opens on Jeff (Jason Segel) smoking weed in his basement as he fields a phone call from his mother (Susan Sarandon), who asks him to fix a shutter. She even poignantly assures Jeff that the fixed shutter is all that she wants for her birthday. Jeff takes the money she left him, ambles outside, and proceeds to go about running this simple errand while adhering to his belief that the film Signs asserts the proper way to living your life. Everything is connected and everything is a sign.
You read that right. Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn’t a typical film about a slacker’s search for a work ethic, but a more ambitious comedy-drama about a man who desperately tries to glean meaning from an absurd (though at times effective) horror film released nearly decade ago. And Jeff, Who Lives at Home eventually even reveals itself to be a micro-remake of Signs, as both follow broken families who’re brought together by a series of tiny, seemingly arbitrary incidents.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home sounds ludicrous on paper, but directors Jay and Mark Duplass stage the material with their customary decency. The film has a tone of gentle oddness that’s often quite moving in the tradition of the directors’ prior movies, The Puffy Chair and Cyrus. The Duplass brothers clearly love actors, and they provide the entire cast, particularly Sarandon (whose been playing the male ideal of the wise older woman for far too long), with moments that allow them to reveal sometimes startling levels of vulnerability and tenderness. The film isn’t a big deal, but it’s a reassuringly nice movie, an oasis from the ironic detachment that characterizes far too much of American discourse, pop cultural or otherwise.
Mark and Jay Duplass generally don't strive for an aesthetic that lends itself to an ostentatiously wonderful Blu-ray presentation. So far in their careers, the directors have been pointedly avoided beautiful, clearly composed images in favor of an improvisatory look, typical to mumblecore films, that's characterized by shaky camera work and a sometimes irritating reliance on zooms. That said, the image transfer here is excellent, sharp without compromising the on-the-fly quality that the directors clearly intended. The sound mix also boasts an impressive attention to detail and nuance.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a slight but moving and unusual addition to the canon of modern American films depicting the plights of young(-ish) adults adrift.