July 22, 2013 by Devin
Sometimes I see a movie arbitrarily. Putting out a normal review of it would sound absurd to me because these movies have often been out for a while, so instead I am doing a movie review apropos of nothing. The following review is for Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which is available on Netflix.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is about the signals people see and interpret in their life and what they mean. This theme is apparent from the get-go when the main character, Jeff (played by Jason Segel) talks about how much he loves the movie Signs and how everything came together in that film. The characters saw signs in their lives that pointed them to their destiny.
Jeff, who lives at home, is a 30-year old pot-smoking slacker with no drive in his life. He finds a sign in his life that he thinks is supposed to be pointing him to something, so he follows it, putting him on a journey that will take him to his brother Pat (played by Ed Helms), and during the course of the film the two brothers will try to find meaning in their lives.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home absolutely nails the microcosms of the human experience.* I feel like this generation has been trained, thanks to wonderful shows like Seinfeld and The Office, to look at the events of a film or TV show with a certain sense of distance. The Office in particular relies on a degree of separation between the audience and the characters in order to make its events seem humorous (and not just painful).
This movie does not do that. It brings the audience right down to the characters’ level and almost perfectly recreates what these experiences would feel like if they were actually happening. There is in particular one scene that is gut-wrenching and raw in ways that I have not seen in a movie. I even felt a sense of catharsis for the characters when it was over. This movie is not even as funny as it seems it would be because the moments of comedy are undercut by the feeling that these characters are actually going through these tough situations.
But looking at the movie from a wider lens reveals some problems. The movie has a lot of seemingly random phenomena that Jeff really wants to be about his destiny, but unlike Signs, the movie does not point to these as a sign of order in the universe. Instead, the movie constantly sits in the tension between a worldview depicting an ordered universe with meaning and a chaotic universe where all meaning is wishful thinking.
I can respect that, but it never actually comes to a conclusion about that. Sure, the ending makes the movie lean in one direction, but it is hardly all-inclusive. And that is where the problems in the movie are.
The movie constantly throws random events, crazy random happenstances, that drive the characters forward, but without a strong connective tissue holding the whole story together, the events still feel random even in hindsight. The story feels like, “Jeff does X, then sees Y, and then does Z, and then sees A, etc.” until the film ends.
In this way, the film feels like it has raw and emotional conflicts, realistic and rounded characters, and completely artificial plot points. I understand what the film was getting at, highlighting the tension between trying to find meaning and being stuck without meaning, but ultimately it just feels like its Chekhov’s Guns are half-baked rather than nuanced. And that is a real shame because this film succeeds in ways that most films don’t.
Like the characters, though, the audience is left searching for meaning in the film but unable to grasp it.
*Sorry, my English major is showing.