The Duplass brothers make the kind of indie films that make Blockbuster gobblers dry retch. The very same Duplasses make the kind of indie films that make the bespectacled, shuffling mumblecore lovers turn up their noses at the reek of commerciality. But, are either of these attributes really a bad thing? In tandem, I like to think not. By shunning the boisterous mainstream, yet maintaining just enough narrative interest to fall short of mumblecore accreditation, the Duplass brothers produce the kind of easy-watching films that feed the audience meaningful sentiment before they've even realized it's happening. Take Cyrus, their 2010 surprise hit: the majority of the audience bowled up convinced they were about to sit through yet another fest of Jonah Hill-fuelled belly laughs. What they got instead was a touching, intimate, sensitive portrayal of familial dependence, with more than its fair share of modern tragedy (but enough laughs to keep the punters satisfied). If that's not perfectly balanced filmmaking, I don't know what is.
The Duplasses return to a similar theme with Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Jeff (Jason Segel) is a surprisingly recognisable anomaly of the modern world: a supremely puerile thirty-something, living in the basement of his single Mother's home, smoking dope and hopelessly searching for his destiny. A frustration to his Mother (Susan Sarandon), the butt-end of his elder brother's jokes (Ed Helms), and utterly dependant upon the gospel of M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 film, Signs, Jeff is a loser with a capital L. Yet, the paradigm of success is turned on it's head, when Jeff's seemingly perfect brother buys (and almost immediately crashes) a mid-life crisis Porsche, begins to suspect his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him, and eventually drags Jeff in to the sorry mess with him. As an undercurrent to these domestic disasters, Jeff's mother is having an illicit, yet somewhat distressing, office flirtation, completing the pained quartet of personal crises with astute perfection.
The storyline is thin on the ground, and the narrative links are, at times, a little tenuous. The film's denouement is such a brashly blatant set-up, conveniently tying together Jeff's various loose ends, you are inevitably left feeling a little short changed; almost indignant that those pesky Duplasses could insult your filmic intelligence in such an unabashed manner. Similarly to Cyrus, the nitpickers in the audience will certainly bemoan the fact that Jeff... is not easily catagorised as comedy or drama. With far too many giggles to file under 'serious family study', but falling a little short on guffaws to graduate from the school of comedy, Jeff... resides in the no-man's-land of genre, which is bound to rub some (anal) people up the wrong way.
Jeff's real merit lies in it's tenderness, for which Jason Segel can be held largely accountable: his hulking great form, accompanied by helpless doe eyes, and a shaggy mop of hair screams helpless vulnerability. While Jeff is one of his less three-dimensional roles to date, Segel still doesn't fail to impress, delievering a pitch-perfect performance (and a valuable Hollywood lesson in subtlety).
The Bottom Line
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (much like the man himself) is never going to set the world on fire. Yet the film's touching sentiments, recondite narrative and fine-spun wit linger with you long after you leave the cinema- perhaps Jeff is, aptly, the ultimate 'grower'.