Toronto Review: Duplass Brothers' Comedy 'Jeff Who Lives at Home'
by Alex Billington
September 10, 2011
Did you see Signs? Good, because if you didn't, you won't get this film at all. That's not entirely true, but it's that context that frames this comedy, and damn is it hilarious. Jeff Who Lives at Home is the latest film from the Duplass Brothers (of The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus) that, in its simplest description, is a stoner comedy about a 30-something guy who lives in his mom's basement and the adventure he goes when leaving to buy wood glue. But it's actually all about destiny. Does any of this make sense? No? Good, because that's how wacky yet funny this is, especially with Jason Segel leading the way as Jeff, who lives at home.
The Duplass Brothers are mostly known for their mumblecore films, but this film isn't another mumblecore. Jeff Who Lives at Home does focus on the comedic improv strengths of the lead actors, but still feels like a more scripted story about a guy who finally understands destiny, but is still a stoner. It all begins when he gets a wrong-number phone call one more with an angry guy asking to speak with Kevin. Don't forget that name, because it's a sign, and everything else that happens is because of that. Now are you starting to get the Signs reference? Ed Helms plays Jeff's obnoxious older brother Pat, and Susan Sarandon their widowed, yet lonely, mother. All three play an important part in this story of destiny and how far "Kevin" takes them.
I'm trying to be fairly vague because the unraveling of the story is part of the genius of the comedy in Jeff Who Lives at Home. And beyond that, it's just hard to explain without having seen it, almost all of the jokes are in context in relation to destiny and what the name "Kevin" really means. But it was an enjoyable ride, I laughed quite a bit, mostly at Segel's amazing delivery of almost every line, and enjoyed where the film ends up. It's a wacky but amusing journey that the Duplass Brothers take us on, but is packed full of moments that actually make you think, make you wonder whether you're missing the signs of destiny and need to take another look at your life. Yet, Jeff is still a stoner who lives at home, but has an impact on those around him.
As with most indie comedies, the sensibilities of Jay and Mark Duplass are unquestionably present in the film, and if you don't like their kind of humor, then it might not connect with you. The biggest compliment I can give is to Jason Segel, who I came out loving as a comedic actor even more than I already did, and that's saying a lot. He doesn't go for a James Franco-esque mega stoner, but he plays a perfectly chill, wants-to-help-others kind of guy who is just funny at every moment, and imparts the greatest wisdom. The message the film has is worthy of discussion, but I can't get into it without revealing everything. That said, I can't wait to revisit Jeff Who Lives at Home with a real stoner crowd, they'll love it. And don't forget: Kevin.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 8 out of 10