As a great admirer of mumblecore stalwarts the Duplass brothers, it pains me to say that I hated their new film, Jeff, Who Loves At Home.
At a brief 83 minutes, their fourth film is laborious and elicited many checks of the clock on my cell phone. It's exhausting. This doesn't feel like a Duplass brothers' movie -- it feels like bridging the gap between cinephiles and the mainstream in hopes of getting a nice budget for future passion projects. If this movie didn't have hipster affiliation or Jason Segel or Ed Helms, it could easily be the concept for Eddie Murphy's next bomb.
Segel plays Jeff. He's a 30-year-old stoner who lives in his mother's (Susan Sarandon) basement. He hasn't had a girlfriend -- and seemingly a job -- since high school. He's stuck in this metaphysical stasis where he's looking for signs from the universe to uncover his destiny. His brother Pat (a goateed Ed Helms), is going through a clichéd mid-life crisis, buying a Porsche, having business meetings at Hooters and neglecting his wife Linda (Judy Greer).
The film opens with Jeff speaking into a voice recorder about being influenced by the movie Signs, which OMG, is a clever use of foreshadowing. (Has he ever heard of I Heart Huckabees?). The story follows a day-in-the-life of Jeff after he gets a wrong number at his house with someone asking for "Kevin." Thinking this could be a sign, he begins a cosmic journey of self-discovery while running an errand which leads him to follow a kid named Kevin, bump into Pat and embark on an investigation to see if Linda is cheating on his bro. Like, everything is connected, man. It's a thin story with grand exclamations on the other, other f-word (fate), but it just... doesn't... work. At all.
There's a difference between fate, coincidences, string theory, quantum physics and existential connections versus corrupt, manufactured movie contrivances. And that is what Jeff, Who Lives At Home Is; contrived scene after contrived scene at an attempt to make you feel some sort of whimsical posi-vibes. The Duplass Brothers are usually so intimately pure --even Cyrus, which had several big names, was able to convey legitimacy. There is nothing legit about Jeff, Who Lives At Home besides one really effective scene between Helms and Greer when the freshman-year existentialism is void. I mean, the movie's climax comes on a traffic-congested bridge where all of the characters are running! Come on!
The narrative between foil brothers makes sense, I get it, but the time dedicated to their mother, I don't get. It's like they signed an actress of Sarandon's caliber and decided to re-write her role so she had something more to do than just be an authority figure. Sure, it's a family story and it makes sense why she could be involved, but her chunk of time is irrelevant and unfortunately, unintentionally hilarious. She mentions that she has always wanted to be kissed underneath a waterfall and -- I still can't even believe this happened -- the fire alarm in her office gets pulled and she's in an ecstasy; basking in the water coming down from the sprinklers. This can't be the Duplass brothers. They must've been possessed. This is bad. This is Kate Hudson romantic comedy bad.
In The Puffy Chair, the duo's first film, there's a scene where a character carefully and logistically plots how cheat an owner of a hotel out of $10. There was more genuineness in this one short scene than there is throughout the entire run of Jeff, Who Lives At Home. The performances of the four leads, especially an against-type Helms, are commendable, but that's essentially it. Maybe the Duplass brothers are growing up and post-collegiate meandering doesn't get their juices flowing anymore. I don't know. I'm still a fan and I look forward to their continued collaborations and auteur-ish body of work, but with this film, they have evolved and regressed simultaneously.
And that's not a good thing.