I’ve said that there’s no reason to write a story without a plot because you literally can make a plot of anything. It’s really not hard. Why did Jeff get a wrong-number phone call asking for Kevin? Is Pat’s wife cheating on him? You don’t need anything more.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home was written and directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (Humpday, The Puffy Chair) and produced by Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult), stars Jason Segel as Jeff, a slightly misguided soul in search of meaning and direction. Pat (Ed Helms), his selfish brother, uses his superficial reflections as a faux measure of success. He ignores the efforts of his timid wife Linda (Judy Greer) to create a successful and stable marriage while passive-aggressively trying to convince her that getting a new Porsche will improve their slumping relationship. She responds by dumping his specially prepared breakfast of frozen waffles from their apartment steps to the hood of the car. I’m not sure why the waffles were accompanies by ketchup, but the whole bottle goes too.
It’s their mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) birthday, and she only wants one thing: for Jeff to take the bus to Home Depot for glue to fix the missing slat of wood from the kitchen pantry door. But Jeff heavily believes in signs, as he professes in a very funny opening shot as he speaks into a tape recorder. After a phone call in which a wrong number asks for “Kevin,” Jeff believes it’s a sign telling him to find and follow someone named Kevin. That simple thing is the only consistent moment of the film, causing Jeff to flow from one part of town to the next, playing basketball, smoking pot with a stranger, getting beaten and robbed, and hitching a ride on the back of a candy truck, all in search of “Kevin.” Each time he does so, it seems to work out well enough to believe that maybe he’s right. Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline, Pat has reason to believe his wife is cheating and takes hilarious steps to find out. Though two separate events in their lives, Jeff and Pat seem to repeatedly end up in the same place, and you know it’s all going to come to a crashing conclusion. It does, and it’s well worth it.
If you’re a fan of The Office, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy the apparent improv that Helms and Segel have mastered as their oil-and-vinegar relationship brings not a moment of agreement. Even the camera work shows evidence of The Office with the constant quick zooming in, holding, and quick zoom out again as serious moments want us to focus on facial reactions of Sarandon, a rather lonely woman since the death of her husband more than ten years prior, gets messages from a secret admirer. The quick zoom-in-out hits Segel when an info-mercial tells him to “call now,” and then his phone rings. It’s a staple on The Office, but it’s a little over-used here.
It’s a cringe fest, plain and simple, but in a good way. It’s moment after moment of “oh no, please don’t. Dammit, he did. Now what’s he gonna do,” but it works. You want nothing but the best for the well-meaning and simple-minded Jeff who just seeks peace through the teachings of Yoda, and maybe a little pot. You want nothing but a slap from reality for Pat, who obnoxiously parks his Porsche in a handicapped space and tries to turn a suburban two-lane road into Daytona with disastrous results.
Sarandon is as sympathetic as anything as she longs for the dreams of her past, like joining the peace corp. and kissing under a waterfall. The reluctant happiness is all over her face when she receives a drawn flower and flirty messages from an office admirer. You don’t believe for a moment that it could possibly work out well. You completely expect that she’s going to make a fool of herself to follow with the cringe-fest.
Must like The Hangover, it’s a story of several trucks heading for the same intersection at the same time. You know they can’t all hit the brakes in time to avoid destruction. You just hope that somehow they’ll avoid each other and arrive somewhere safely. It all culminates on a highway bridge over a great expanse of water. The trucks do not all avoid each other, half of them end up in the water, and it all ends as simply as it began except that when Jeff takes a seat in the closing shot, he has learned who Kevin is and why they shared a destiny. The average fan on IMDB gave it 8 out of 10 stars, but I might have gone up to about 8 1/2. If I were to do anything differently, it would be to find a place for Paul Rudd.