Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home on Blogcritics.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home, now available on Blu-ray, is one of the latest entries in the long line of disenfranchised 30- and 40-somethings who are slacking their way through life. I’m not saying there haven’t always been slacker movies, but in the last several years there has been a rash of movies featuring characters who are moving towards middle age, yet haven’t quite found their way in life. Some are megahit comedies like Bridesmaids or The Hangover, and some have a more serious take, such as the little-seen Greenberg (2010). I’m not sure what this says about Gen-X, except that more than a few of us didn’t get to where we thought we would be by the time we hit our 30s.
In this film, Jeff (Jason Segel) lives in his widowed mom’s (Susan Sarandon) basement, getting high and not working. His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) is superficially more successful. Pat is married and has a job, but is just as dissatisfied with life as his slacker brother. Jeff, Who Lives at Home may be one of many movies examining the plight of the down-and-outers of Generation X, but it is an enjoyable story with engaging performances from Segel and Helms.
Jeff can’t seem to figure out what he is supposed to be doing with his life. He’s convinced he is destined for something, and he waits for some kind of sign to point him in the right direction. Jeff has developed his philosophy on life using the movie Signs. He’s obsessed with the idea, presented in the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan hit, that everything means something and is somehow connected. One morning Jeff receives a wrong number call from someone asking for “Kevin.” Jeff doesn’t know any Kevin, but he’s convinced the phone call holds a higher meaning, leading him to ponder, “What if there are no wrong numbers?” He heads out on an errand for him mom, looking for clues as to what “Kevin” means to his life.
His wanderings lead him to cross path with his brother Pat. Pat is married to Linda (Judy Greer), and appears to be going through a mid-life crisis. Pat and Linda have no children and live in a small apartment. Linda wants to buy a house and start a family before it’s too late, but Pat has other ideas. He thinks his apathy towards life can be cured by buying a Porsche. Pat thinks his brother is a loser, while Jeff considers Pat to be uptight and unemotional. Though they don’t care much for each other, the brothers are thrown into a bit of an adventure after Pat discovers Linda might be cheating on him. He enlists Jeff’s help to find out.
The story is fairly amusing as the brothers try to secretly follow Linda and her “friend” Steve around town to see what they are up to, but the plot is not the focus of this film. This movie is about the characters. While Jeff’s obsession with Signs seems a little silly at first, there’s actually a deeper level to it. Jeff has spent his adult life searching for meaning in his father’s death. He’s convinced there must have been some kind of meaning in having lost his father at a young age. Pat, on the other hand, has convinced himself that there’s no meaning to anything. Both brothers have been wounded by their circumstances, hurting their relationships with each other and everyone else in their lives. It’s heavy material, but it’s handled in a lighthearted and realistic way. Both Helms and Segel are able to tap into the good and bad sides of their characters moving away from the one-dimensional stereotypes they could have been.
The weak point of the film is the storyline involving their mother, Sharon. The film takes place over the course of one day, and she is at work at an office. Sharon is frustrated with both her kids, and wants them to find some way to get along. She puts the burden on Pat, since he is older and Jeff is more sensitive. That’s all fine, but peripherally she is dealing with a secret admirer and pontificating on getting older with her friend and co-worker Carol (Rae Dawn Chong). This storyline is too underdeveloped to add anything meaningful to the film. Towards the end it gets pushed more to the forefront, but it lacks the depth of the primary fraternal storyline. Instead it falls into cliché, with an all too obvious revelation about her admirer’s identity. However, it doesn’t hurt the rest of the film, it just feels a bit unnecessary.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080p HD transfer. The resolution and detail is excellent. Colors and skin-tones are natural. The film was shot with Red One 4K digital cameras and has kind of a documentary feel. This is well represented in the look of the drab, suburban locations. Colors do not jump off screen, save for the bright purple basketball jersey with “Kevin” on the back and the bright yellow “Kevin’s Kandy” delivery truck Jeff becomes intrigued by. The visuals are all realistic and a little dull, except for these symbolic elements of Jeff’s quest for meaning.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This film is dialogue heavy and all of it is crisp, clear, and easy to understand. There is not much else of prominence on the soundtrack. Ambient sounds are low and hang unobtrusively in the background. The somewhat overly-jaunty score by Michael Andrews, a tad too high in the mix, is focused towards the front channels. The low-key feel of the movie is reflected in the low-key mix.
Overall this is a thoughtful, gently funny movie that is well presented on Blu-ray. Surprisingly there are no special features to speak of, but that doesn’t take away from this being a worthwhile viewing.