At the beginning of the Duplass brothers’ latest feature Jeff, who lives at home, Jeff Thompkins (Jason Segel) is philosophising. Speaking into a Dictaphone he contemplates the mysteries of the cosmos and worries when his fate will arrive. Finishing and clicking off the record button of the device Jeff smiles to himself, betraying a faint sense wisdom in a search for answers to the significant questions of his life. The camera then pulls out to reveal Jeff sitting on the toilet, in the midst of what seems to be a very long yet tranquil passing of his excrement. This scene sets the tone for the film, an ethereal and mystical wondering of fate and coincidence that is light hearted enough not to seem sanctimonious or indecently sanguine.
Much of the praise must be given to Segel, he could appear self-importantly smug but he carries his performance deftly to achieve the aforementioned balance of profundity and humour. He is mellow enough to appear constantly stoned but becomes energised and effervescent when the mood, or sign, takes him. Segel has found a plain in which this is all very serious, pertaining to the fragile mind of his character that needs to be occupied in this way.
Jeff is a slacker who as the title suggests, still lives in his mother’s basement. He appears preoccupied with the movie Signslooking for significance in even the most incidental of occurrences. His ramblings are random and nonsensical until the revelation that his family lost their father when Jeff and his elder brother Pat (Ed Helms) were adolescents. Pat seems far more successful having a job, a wife and a Porsche but his life is far from perfect. Pat is the straight-laced ‘normal guy’ to Jeff’s lazy stoner, the two colliding and then working together in cataclysmic harmony.
Meanwhile the pair’s mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is having issues of her own. On top of the frustration of a son unable to shift an incumbent stupor and dealing with the death of her husband she now faces approaches from an unnamed source in her workplace. In the genius of the Duplass Brother’s story, this along with the brother’s fractious reconnection all happens in the space of one day in sun-kissed Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The script is filled with nuggets of gold, Pat’s awkward admission to buying a Porsche he can’t afford to his wife over the breakfast table is a testament to Helms’ ability to milk cringe worthy moments until the viewer feels the need to cower in the corner of the cinema, rocking back and forth calling for their mothers. Diggin’ a hole doesn’t begin to cover it.
The Duplass’ aren’t just ‘point and shoot’ merchants either. They capture the unfolding drama tenderly and voyeuristically with a nice mix of short zoom-ins and shaky drawing away from their characters to get the angle that captivates the tone in a single frame, if only for a split second. This style stops the film from collapsing under the weight of its messages, despite attempting to achieve a blissful awakening for its characters; it never comes off as being too high-minded.
While Jeff, who lives at home is not revelatory it proves that there is a niche that the Duplass’ could fill, an upbeat film that doesn’t run in the usual sickly sweet formula, one for the realists. In what is a strangely life affirming tale Jeff… manages to make such a simple trick as familial reconciliation seem refreshing and vital.