The latest film from Jay and Mark Duplass can be described as sweet, whimsical, and warm. Like their previous films The Puffy Chair and Cyrus, this story deals with familial ties with the protagonists looking for some purpose at a random and seemingly irregular moments of their daily lives. Jeff Who Lives at Home starts with an opening montage of photographs from a family's home, set to a playful tune by composer Michael Andrews, as letters re-arrange themselves from name to name for the film's credits. Of all the films this reminded me of, I found myself thinking of the early 90's comedy Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams. It had a similar opening and that was very much a movie about family and love and second chances and connections. Not to call this the Duplass Bros. version of a Robin Williams comedy, but this is a much more mature work about family that does show traces of the DNA of the directors' previous films, but also they are perhaps growing as storytellers.
Jeff (played by the lankishly tall Jason Segel) sits at home in his mother's basement, gets high, and watches Signs (the movie starring "Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin" as he proclaims it). He gets an incorrectly dialed call from a guy looking for someone named Kevin and shortly thereafter his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), calls and asks Jeff to run to the store and pick up some glue. Jeff's brother, Pat (Ed Helms, channeling a more in-check aggression from The Office and The Hangover) is having marital problems with Linda (Judy Greer, once again playing a misunderstood partner) and spends part of the day trying to figure out if his wife is cheating on him. The two brothers run into each other, the mother is having her own crisis of aging, cars are crashed, basketball is played, doors are broken, and the film culminates in a melodramatic moment that leaves every character with a greater understanding of themselves and each other.
This is interesting to me on a few levels. Jeff (partially because he is a stoner, partially because he is a sensitive guy... two elements that Segel can perfectly meld), walks around town with his brother and others trying to explain how the movie Signs is really a metaphor for purpose and life and is trying to say something much grander about ourselves and our existence like most films do. Jeff claims there are signs all throughout his day such as the name "Kevin" appearing on a basketball player's jersey or a truck. Is is just coincidence as Pat believes or like the actual narrative of the movie itself, will life culminate in a greater and fulfilling moment of clarity?
The Duplass Bros., who are a part of the film-moment known as Mumblecore along with Lynne Shelton and others, deliver a deep thinking but not as arduous story. Perhaps a better way to describe it would be a film with complexity minus intensity. The brothers have a better understanding of how to express their thoughts visually with each movie, but despite less shakey-ness and zooming, there are a few moments that remind us that there is a camera being used to observe the action. However, in this case, that might add a whole other layer to be winked at to the audience.