Have you ever watched a movie and swear you’ve seen it before? The Duplass Brothers’ Jeff, Who Lives at Home is one of those déjà vu flicks.
The main character, Jeff (Jason Segal), is a thirtysomething stoner who, you guessed it, lives at home. He has no job, seemingly because he is too busy philosophizing about destiny and fate. Meanwhile, his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), flounders in an unhappy marriage which he tries to fix through denial and reckless purchases (i.e. a Porsche). Pat and Jeff’s mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), grapples with sexual frustration and emotional repression years after the death of her husband. The only person who understands her is Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), her best friend and co-worker.
Sound familiar yet? It’s the classic indie structure, y’all! You take multiple characters on the verge or in the midst of personal crises and incorporate another character to show them the “bigger picture.” One of the only original tactics that Jeff employs is its substitution of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl for the Idealist Stoner Sage. Even this substitution is not completely novel; one could reasonably consider Carol as a Manic Pixie Dream Woman. Jeff’s reverence for the spiritual and the sacred inspires Pat to reevaluate what he considers important in his own life. (Spoiler: it’s not the Porsche.) Likewise, Carol supports Sharon on her journey back into self-love and intimacy.
Jeff tries to speak to the “human experience” so earnestly that it practically parodies itself. Its supposedly humorous scenes are held together by flimsy strings of ad libs (I’m looking at you, Helms), while its climax is littered with over-the-top, uncharacteristic action. Events do come full circle, as it were, but viewers may be too busying climbing through hackneyed “Carpe Diem” muck to appreciate Jeff’s finality.
Summary: If you want to watch a film about someone who overcomes personal trails with the help of an unlikely life coach, just rent Garden State. It has a better soundtrack.