Jay and Mark Duplass’s film starts with Jason Segel’s 30 year-old slacker Jeff musing about the significance of fate into a dictaphone while sitting on the crapper. M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 film Signs, with its thread of meaningful coincidences, points to a loose philosophy for Jeff to cling to as he idles away endless hours through a haze of pot-smoke in his mother’s basement, taking his cues from tv commercials and crank phone calls on what to do next.
Jeff’s is a life derailed, and it will take the request of a simple errand from his exasperated mother (Susan Sarandon) to get him off his arse and out into the world, where events tied to helping his estranged brother Pat (Ed Helms) repair a broken marriage transpire to gift him the meaning he’s so desperately searching for.
Jeff is, like most of us, looking to make sense of things when life doesn’t go as planned, while his existential anxst is more identifiably echoed through his mother’s bored sadness and his brother’s failing relationship. All three are in a state of personal crisis with much of it rooted in the death of Jeff’s father years earlier, that cast them all adrift in one way or another. While Jeff is looking for signs, Pat is incapable of acknowledging his wife’s needs and their mother is looking for anything to make her feel alive again.
But, lest we forget, this is a film about coincidence (remember that Signs reference earlier on?), and so each event is a connecting puzzle-piece to the next as the brothers stumble their way through the day – first stalking Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) to a diner where she meets her mystery man, followed by a motel room confrontation that leads to a reality check and some much needed soul searching. Along the way Pat’s coveted new Porsche Boxster is wrecked, then towed, forcing the brothers to continue on foot, Jeff is constantly on the lookout for any signs related to the name ‘Kevin’ while elsewhere their mother is being sent work emails by a secret admirer that raises her desperate hopes for romance.
The way all of these disparate threads are brought together lifts the film out of the charming indie category many of the Duplass Brothers’ films have been lumped and into something more profound. While the brothers excel in comical stories of small relationship dramas and have a keen eye for the disappointments, hopes and frustrations of ordinary people leading fairly normal lives, Jeff is a film that reaches that little bit further in its ambitions.
Jeff is a funny film but it’s also a clever one, boldly referencing someone else’s movie to underscore its central premise and steadfastly following it through to the bitter end, which made me want to watch the whole thing over again just so I could spot the ‘signs’.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is available to stream on various platforms