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March 15, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

jeff who lives at home.jpg

Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass - 2012
Paramount Pictures 35mm film

I might have liked Jeff, Who Lives at Home a bit better if it were not one of the worst photographed films in recent memory. It's not that I would want any filmmakers to slavishly imitate anyone else, but the overuse of the zoom lens was distracting. In Jeff, it is like no one could decide where to focus the camera so it moves in and out on characters in the worst manner of someone making a home movie. I'm not enthusiastic about the use of zoom lenses in most films but Robert Altman had a way of zooming in or out that helped propel the narrative. And if you're going to go for a home movie aesthetic, Vincent Gallo showed a knack for off-kilter composition in Buffalo '66. Even better in how to film comedy, totally trusting the script and the actors, is the little indie that could, God's Land, where Preston Miller positioned a stationary camera in just the right place, allowing the intelligent viewer to discover the humor. And while it might be argued that the camera style reflects the indecisiveness of the characters, or their own lack of focus, the overuse gets so annoying that I'm ready to watch a random film by Yasujiro Ozu just to recover my bearings.

The title gives away the setup of a guy who lives in the basement apartment in his mother's house. The film begins with quotes attributed to Jeff regarding how people should be opened to signs from the universe, and the interconnectedness of people and things. All well and good, although doughy Jeff gets his signs from informercials and M. Night Shyamalan"s Signs, neither of which are good, um, signs. Getting an insistent phone call for someone named Kevin, Jeff follows a guy named Kevin whom he spots on a bus, the name emblazoned on a basketball shirt. Even when this initially friendly encounter turns bad, Jeff doesn't seem to realize at sometimes things aren't more than what they appear to be, whether it is a wrong telephone number or a simple coincidence.

And there are coincidences aplenty, with Jeff literally running into his brother, Pat, who's got troubles of his own with a rocky marriage, and their mother, Sharon, whom the French might describe as "a woman of a certain age", who works in a cubicle where she gets computer messages from an unknown admirer. There is a message about thwarted dreams and expectations, as well as finding one's destiny in unexpected places. It's not that I disagree with any of the sentiments expressed here, but the film is kind of like Jeff, lazy and not fulfilling full potential.

The best realized comedy revolves around Pat's purchase of a Porsche, much to the chagrin of his wife, Linda. Not only is Linda angry that the dream of a house purchase is jeopardized, her response is to dump breakfast leftovers onto the gleaming white car. It's a given that what will happen to that white Porsche will be much, much worse than a few food stains. What also doesn't help Jeff is that the title character, played by Jason Segal, isn't all that interesting. Better is the often manic Ed Helm as the more accomplished to the two underachieving brothers. A bit more originality is to be found in Susan Sarandon's mother, underestimating her attractiveness in maturity, and Rae Dawn Chong as Sarandon's coworker and best friend, with a few secrets of her own.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 15, 2012 08:10 AM