The signs aren't always good for Jeff Who Lives At Home

Jeff Who Lives At Home review
Jeff Who Lives At Home review

Glasgow Film Festival co-director Allison Gardner held a little competition before the start of Wednesday night's surprise film pertaining to its identity. (Given that it was almost certain to be a movie due for release in the forthcoming months, minus points should have been awarded to the first shout-out of Pulp Fiction...)

It didn't take too long for somebody to rightly guess Jeff Who Lives At Home, which comes from Jay and Mark Duplass, the writer-director brothers behind Cyrus and Baghead. (Mark was actually on the other side of the camera for the hugely entertaining GFF Opening Gala selection Your Sister's Sister, in which his bedraggled comedic turn was a highlight.)

In their latest feature Jason Segal stars as stoner Jeff, who at the beginning of the film has employed hokey alien invasion movie Signs as direct inspiration towards seeking a greater meaning to his existence, soon on the search for the Kevin that he thinks may be pivotal to his life turning around (for reasons that would stretch any normal amount of credulity). Without a job or girlfriend, he is indeed –as the title suggests –marooned in the family home, unwilling or unable to do even the most meagre amount of handiwork.

Meanwhile Ed Helms is his brother Pat, whose relationship is struggling –splashing out on a Porsche without consulting his partner Linda (Judy Greer) might be the final straw –but who is nonetheless roped into trying to help out Jeff by their mum Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who herself is having a sort of existential crisis - being contacted in her workplace by a secret admirer.

Soon the brothers are on a mission to investigate possible infidelity on Linda's part, and all manner of contrivances start flooding forth. Do these coincidences prove that there's some truth to Jeff's wide-eyed acceptance of a fate awaiting us all, or is Pat better to have closed himself off to such possibilities?

If all that sounds contrived, it's because it is. It really, really is. Complete with a wryly twinkling Michael Andrews score, the movie is an odd mixture of more organic, documentary-style camerawork and what's almost a pastiche of that well worn, highly contrived indie plot in which –just in time for the finale –each of the main characters has had some sort of hokey spiritual awakening.

Despite that Jeff Who Lives At Home was still consistently enjoyable enough that to denigrate the film during its denouement felt deeply cynical. One side of my brain (don't ask me which) definitely was definitely willing me to cast aside doubts and embrace a humorous and gently positive tale about generally loveable characters who appear to have tripped themselves up on their journey through life, but who we want to succeed. A lot of this goodwill emerges from the central pairing of Segal and Helms, both superior comic actors who can move beyond their comfort zone to imbue their characters with real empathy, even when you wouldn’t expect it.

So Jeff Who Lives At Home, a movie that feels satisfying in one sense and highly dissatisfying in another. Whether to recommend or not depends on what your mood will be on the particular day that you mosey along to the cinema, or which side of your brain has the upper hand. Without getting into any “he said/she said”debates, it safe to say both of my hemispheres still have a little making up to do.

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