Film Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

– Judy Elkind

Knowing that the new film Jeff, Who Lives at Home (screenplay by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass) stars Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Surandon, and Judy Greer, I went into the theater wanting to enjoy the movie. And yes, I did enjoy it, but I also had some issues with it and the satisfaction factor doesn’t rate beyond “enjoyable” to anything extraordinary, or novel. That being said, most of the ticks that set me off had to do with the cinematography, not as much the writing of acting.

The central concept behind the film – that everything in life happens for a reason and one is always searching for this inspiration in life – is not a new notion, but the film actually did a good job at making the presentation refreshing. Having an oddly innocent adult character in Jason Segel’s Jeff contrasted to his dull brother, Pat played by Ed Helms was a fun relationship to watch unfold. Their mother, Susan Sarandon, was also a likable character, but her development felt rather rushed. It is definitely a direction worth exploring, so I wish the film had given her due time, especially since the movie was a humble 83 minutes, an additional 20 minutes for elaboration would have added a lot to the natural flow of plot. More of Judy Greer’s character Linda, Pat’s wife, would have played out well too, as one of the most emotionally raw part of the film. Back to the story, the coincidental trajectory for Jeff’s character is hard believe, but they make it so you don’t mind suspending reality to appreciate the caring nature of the storyline. Segel did a great job at portraying Jeff’s need for answers and naïve appreciation for happenstance.

Apart from the content, the cinematography and direction makes you aware of the conscious choice in shots and the feel of the camera. I’d estimate a solid 70% of the shots focused on a close up of one singular person, then have a quick, slight zoom, then hold on the characters expressions. So many framing shots and the clear mobility of the camera (the sharp zooms) was a little distracting because it brought attention to the fact that you’re watching through a camera screen. The way the story unravels in the course of the film it makes you aware they want these particular shots, these particular affects. This was mostly an issue during serious back and forth conversations. I know back and forth shots in conversations are common in filming, but it happened so often, for long stretches, without any over the shoulder or sort of break up in some of these scenes, that it was sort of dizzying. You couldn’t place the setting, or the characters actually speaking to each other anymore. The music was also somewhat of a distraction because the film’s anthem is this bouncy tune reminiscent of a falsely cheery college recruitment video, and played multiple times in the background for chunks seemingly over 30 seconds long.

There’s good blend of comedy and drama and it’s always fun to see familiar actors are in new roles. So ultimately, while there are certainly imperfections in the film, it’s a nice way to spend the evening with an endearing, hopeful take home.

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