Have you ever seen the movie Signs?
Jason Segel is probably one of my favorite working actors today. If I was a woman, I would marry him. He may not be the hunkiest of Hollywood actors, but he is charming, funny, and above all, lovable. Which is funny, because that is exactly how I would describe his latest film Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
As the title implies, the film centered on a man named Jeff (Jason Segel), age 30, who lives at home in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. Jeff is unemployed, smokes pot, and really isn’t all that concerned about making a change in his life.
The film is also about Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms), a paint salesman who has just surprised his wife Linda (Judy Greer) with a Porsche. Their marriage is a failing one, made worse by the fact that Linda has saved all their money in hopes that they can soon move into a house. Unfortunately for her, Pat has put that money towards a very expensive sports car.
The opening scene sees Jeff sitting on the toilet and speaking quite passionately into a tape recorder about his love for the movie Signs. What does this have to do with anything? Well the movie Signs is filled with strange coincidences, all of which bring up the concept of fate. And Jeff has immense belief in fate. Every single event that happens to him, Jeff believes to be a sign that will lead him to — what exactly? His destiny, I suppose.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home takes place over the course of one day. While sitting on the couch going through his usual routine, Jeff gets a strange and threatening phone call from someone searching for a man named Kevin. He tells the man that he must have the wrong number, but we begin to see here how Jeff’s mind works. Maybe there is no such thing as a wrong number.
Jeff begins trying to find meaning in “Kevin,” but to no avail. He then gets a second phone call, from his mother. It is her birthday, and she is asking just one thing of Jeff: to fix the broken shutter in her house. So, deciding to make good on fixing the window shutter, Jeff takes the bus to the hardware store, but his entire day is thrown off track when he spots someone with a jersey that reads “KEVIN” on the back.
Jeff follows the man as he gets off at the next stop near a local park. What starts out as a fun game of pick-up basketball turns into a staged mugging. Soon after, Jeff and his brother Pat cross ways, and upon discovering Pat’s wife Linda at a gas station with another man, the two brothers spend the day tracking Pat’s potentially adulterous wife, while Jeff, constantly sidetracked by various Kevins, holds out hope that he may finally find out his destiny.
Adding to this is the brothers’ mom, Sharon, who receives an instant message from a secret admirer at work. Sharon hasn’t been intimate with anyone since the passing of her husband, so she is lonely and lacks the confidence to meet someone new. But today is a new day, and her curiosity may work in her favor.
I will stop there with the story, but I should add this: as I’ve described it above, the story seems a rather ordinary and mundane one. And it is. Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is largely a conventional film. However, the Duplass brothers — known for producing movies of the “mumblecore” genre — utilize this no-frills concept to great effect. By keeping the storyline minimal, they allow for sincere moments of pain and heartbreak, love and warmth. It’s all in the execution, and the execution is superb, especially the last 10 minutes.
For the most part, what you see is what you get with this movie. But the best parts of the film are those things that are unexpected.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a film that does two things. First, it shows us that there are strings of fate that connect us all and that fate does, in fact, play a role in our lives. Second, however, it reminds us that sometimes, we must throw fate out the window and craft our own destiny.
Essentially, what we learn is that coincidence is not everything. While fate certainly may exist, we have a choice in what we make of our lives. Sure, we can sit around and follow the signs, but there is a reason that the expression “carpe diem” exists. We must know when to follow the path and when to forge our own. That is the ultimate takeaway from this film.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home contains great writing and a host of solid acting, especially from Segel, Greer, and Sharon’s office mate Carol (Rae Dawn Chong). It’s a charming, funny, and beautiful film, and one I highly suggest checking out.