Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ten Statements About....JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME (2011)

Place your own beginning to a vaguely homoerotic joke here.
"What you just said sounded like Yoda took acid and stumbled into a business meeting."
"You can make all the fun of Yoda that you want. Yoda would be fucking killer in a business meeting."

1) On its surface, this is one of my least liked subgenres of dramedies--namely the 'Holy Fool' comedy, where some psychologically or culturally awkward individual enriches the lives of those around him with his simplistic views of life. But unlike so many of these 'Holy Fool' films, this one works because the film doesn't flinch from acknowledging that Jeff, the designated Holy Fool, is a bit of a screw-up whose life isn't all that wonderful. Even more importantly, it leaves the Holy Fool's situation only superficially improved and lets us decide if this is a temporary uptick or not.

2) One of the reasons this film is effective is because its three principles are cast against type--especially Jason Segal. The Duplass Brothers, who wrote and directed, seems to have recognized something I didn't realize about Segal...namely that there's a quality to his face that makes him look haunted and lost at times. The Duplasses takes full advantage of this, both when using Jeff as a catalyst for Ed Helms' Pat's storyline and when exploring whether this Holy Fool is all that effective as a life leader.

3) I don't know if the Duplasses intended this or not, but I continued to find myself obsessed with the way Judy Greer, who plays Pat's wife Lisa, looks so much like Susan Sarandon, who plays the mother of both Pat and Jeff. To me, it means that Pat's attraction to Lisa may have something to do--whether consciously or not--with his own issues with his family. It might also explain while Pat and Lisa don't have kids even after being married for this long....

Somehow, when I think of all my contemporaries who wish
to see Susan Sarandon wet, I don't think this is what they
4) Susan Sarandon may very well be in that category of women (like Selma Hayek) who just. doesn't. age. And because she's still got this timeless quality, it makes the whole subplot of her and her insecurities regarding a secret admirer weird. Quite frankly, she doesn't look all that much older than Segal and Helms (something driven home every time she interacts with Rae Dawn Chong, who does look her age), even though she's got to be in her late 50's by now; she definitely doesn't look 'ugly and droopy.'

5) While I understand how the whole sequence with the basketball game is designed to give us some insight into how Jeff's mind works, I wonder if it really was needed. It does seem to only take up time and while the fact that Jeff was an ace ball player was established in the credit sequence, the way it was established is so borderline subliminal (a photo of him playing for Harvard) that I can see people easily overlooking it.

6) I know I might be isolated in this opinion, but I don't find the destruction of Pat's Porsche all that funny. It's not because I don't find the destruction of silly status symbols funny; it's because the sequence of events is waaaay too spot on as a metaphor for the stripping away of Pat's high-class pretentions so he can emerge a better person in the final act. It's the sort of too-clever-for-its-own-good plot development this film manages to avoid for the rest of its running time.

7) I have to wonder if solidifying the place this film occurs in as Baton Rogue was wise. It really doesn't offer up anything specific to the story except that it's close to New Orleans--which is referenced in Saradon's plotline but not really paid off on. Given how the story is more about these three characters and the way their lives intersect, maybe not drawing attention to the city would have made more sense.
"Uhhhh, no...Paul's not here, man."

8) Anyone who doubts my contention in the past that Jason Segal deserves a bigger career should look at the scene in the fancy restaurant Pat coerces Jeff to go into to spy on Lisa. Segal manages to get so many emotions on his face--his awkwardness at being out in public, his embarrassment at being dressed as he is (and presumably stinking of pot) in this environment, his compassion for his brother--while also maintaining his mental and emotional disconnectiveness. It's an amazing performance from an actor who's underrated.

9) I get that coincidence is meant to be a major part of the film; the quote at the very beginning makes that very clear. But there are some coincidences--particular one that hinges on a character not noticing a co-worker friend's tattoo--that threaten to break the film's narrative flow. The Duplass Brothers never quite pull the suspension of disbelief wholely out of shape, you can hear it creaking at these moments.

10) The, the ending is jarring. It signals a violent tone shift in the narrative, switches between conventional and handheld, and just doesn't quite work out. Plus, from the moment Jeff starts running along the bridge, the entire direction of this plot point is thoroughly predictable. This might be the one thing that works the least for the film as a whole, even though it could have worked if blocked out better.

Overall...while it is flawed, violently so, there's enough here that lifts it up above the 'quirky indie comedy' that I can't stand so much. Plus it's got three good central performances. Recommended with reservations.

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