I've known my friend Barry since college -- he's a great person, a talented writer and musician, and currently works at a successful news magazine TV program in Long Island. He also happens to live with his parents.
I've never defined him by his housing situation, but I know he's suffered the comments and judgments of others regarding his decision. We've talked here and there about the things people say to him, how popular culture defines folks in his position, and the endless news articles discussing the state of millennials.
Which is why I called him last week to ask if he'd be interested in attending a screening of the new Jay and Mark Duplass film "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." I wanted to give Barry a chance to address the subject on a larger scale. After a long pause, he conceded, "Sure. I'll do it. I know it'll help you out."
Following a screening of the movie -- which centers upon the perceptions surrounding a dramatized version of Barry's particular situation as seen through the eyes of Jeff (Jason Segel), his mother (Susan Sarandon) and brother (Ed Helms) -- we had the most candid discussion of our nine-year friendship.
Did you like the movie?
I loved it. When we walked into this, we were expecting something else. It's not quite just about what the title entails. We thought it'd be more along the lines of an "Our Idiot Brother" or "Failure to Launch."
Yeah, there are similarities. But I'd say the primary difference is that he's [Jeff] a dreamer without dreams. He doesn't have an ambition.
But he's trying to find one by looking at fate.
That's admirable. I went through period like that. I think I was like 25.
What snapped you out of it?
Nothing. I'm the same. I mean, you just get older. I had an idea of what I thought my life would be like, but then it didn't turn out that way. I don't think it turns out that way for anybody, really.
What did you think your life was going to be?
When I went to college I went with a very clear purpose -- I wanted to be a writer. And I did that for a little bit, and it just was never what I thought it was. And it required more of me than I thought. I had this weird notion that it was something you apply for and then someone lets you do it. I thought those jobs were waiting for me because of all the things I did when I was in college. I did everything you're supposed to do. I worked for the newspaper -- I was the editor of the music section. And when I graduated it was like, "Oh, no, that's not how it works." So I did some freelancing but I couldn't string it together...how do you make a living like that?
So you moved back home right after you graduated. What's your career path been like since then?
It was always the plan to come home after I graduated. And then I took a job as an office manager in a music school. And then I took a job in the regulatory department of this company that specializes in the distribution of dental equipment. I was handling the biggest product recall in company history. But I was getting out there, I was still freelance writing about music. And then I went to this job fair, and I met this guy that works at a company -- I didn't know what it was, it just looked like a news organization and they needed writers. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It's been a great experience -- I've learned so much, met so many incredible people, told so many great stories. I'm so happy!
Your parents are the sweetest people. Are they cool with you living at their house?
[Laughs] No, they want me out! And I want to be out! And I'm on my way. I've been looking at places. But if I moved out and I just had to do nothing but worry about my rent constantly, I would probably drift...into depression.
So you're the kind of person who has to create a very financially stable environment for yourself before taking the next step? You're like the anti-personality to these movie characters.
Yeah. Well, I'm probably too cautious, and I think that's what my friends see when they do say things to me like, "It's time, Barry." Well, you're not me. I'm insecure about it but I'm not ashamed of it. Because it's a choice I made. People have a hard time understanding that, and that's really where I struggle -- because I don't want to have to go through the struggle of explaining to other people my choices that I think are the right choices for me.
And do you ever really ask that of other people? I have plenty of friends who live with a bunch of roommates, or in bad neighborhoods just so they can afford it.
And I also have friends whose parents pay their rent. I have friends whose parents pay their everything! I just think everyone makes their own choices about it. If that's your circumstances, God bless you.
What do your parents say to you about the possibility of moving out?
They told me, "We'll never let you sink." And that's a different type of support. It's certainly appreciated - I don't think I'm going to need to use it. It's good to know it's there. They want me to do what I do. They want me to be who I am.
What's your opinion of the Hollywood portrayal of people who live at home?
[Laughs] It's somewhat accurate. I don't know anybody like me. I assume there are people in my situation out there. I hope they're reading this. [laughs] Everyone's circumstances are different. And there are always sacrifices to be made.
We both experienced this movie differently, based on our own personal situations. I see it as more of a metaphor for dispelling your prejudices and looking at your own life instead. What do you think?
I think the thing is everybody wants something for Jeff that he doesn't want for himself. And when he sees what they have as a result of the choices that they're asking him to make, he's like "Why would I want to be married and have an apartment? So I can have a horrible marriage like you? Why would I want to get a job and work in an office and just stare at a picture of a waterfall all day to escape? That doesn't sound like me." It doesn't necessarily mean that he should be in his basement ripping bongs, but...
...he's far enough along to realize he's made the decision not to be like they are.
Right. For me, I think the main thing is that I'm always moving forward. I may move forward slowly, but I haven't taken a single step backwards in the years that I've been doing what I'm doing.
And that's what you'd like the people who give you a hard time to understand about you?
I'd like them to understand that everybody moves at their own pace. Sometimes it takes people longer to figure it out. Sometimes they encounter a world that doesn't really fit, or they have a hard time grasping the world as it is. Not because they're crazy, just because it doesn't make sense with their value system. Did you read the essay in the New York Times by these two people named Buchholz? It's about how young people now are basically a do-nothing, why bother generation. That we should be reading "The Grapes of Wrath" and listening to Bruce Springsteen. It's so reductive. It's just insulting, really.
I wonder what Jeff would say about that article.
It's a weird movie. It's haunting me a little bit. Because I did relate to it in certain ways. I guess I didn't expect to. Didn't want to. You know, when I walked in I was like, "I don't really want to see this movie." I really wish Jason Segel would stop making movies about me! Because "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was very close to the experience I went through, and this seems kinda similar. "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" could just as easily be the sequel to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." One little decision either way. A friend said to me last week, "Isolation is a bad thing because it's tolerable." If you get into a habit of doing something, eventually you can just be like, "This isn't so bad." And it could've just as easily happened to Segel's character in "Sarah Marshall." And maybe it's happened to me. Maybe I'm a little complacent. Maybe I could've moved out a few years ago.
What were the moments that won you over in the movie, and the moments that made you identify with Jeff?
I'm just really impressed with Jason Segel. I think he doesn't judge his character. And I think I'd like other people not to judge my character. The movie's called "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," which means that he's Jeff and he's defined by the fact that he lives at home. But that's clearly not what defines him. I think that's telling.
Do you think Jason Segel being so nonjudgmental of his characters makes you feel like you should give yourself a break and be less judgmental of your own character?
Yeah, certainly. But I'd rather I be the one judging my character than anyone else, because that's all that matters. And that's ultimately what's going to motivate me to keep moving forward. No one's ever accused me of being too lazy. I think they find it curious that I would choose to do what I'm doing. And when you reach a point where you feel like you have to explain it to somebody, that never works out. And there's that scene in the movie where Jeff says, "You know -- you guys will never understand me. And you're all I've got!" Like, how does he feel? He's isolated in some ways. He's complacent in his isolation.
But Jeff never judges his family.
No, he doesn't. You shouldn't do that!
Has anyone ever asked you about this subject so directly before?
No one has ever asked me about it. They've always just told me about it. It's possible that people reading this will just think I'm making excuses. And that's fine. There's always going to be someone waiting for you to make the decisions they made, so they can feel better about the decisions they made. That's just tired.