Based upon the evidence of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Jason Segel is indeed a Muppet of a man. With scraggly hair, felt-like face, and butt mostly planted in one position (down in mom’s basement), all Segel’s Jeff seems to know is that it’s real easy smokin’ green. That, and he’s obsessed with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. I always thought all basement-dwellers were required to hate that movie, but having Jeff not just like it, but draw life lessons from it, certainly gives JWLAH an original spin. You’re not likely to see a character with these particular tastes in cinema on-screen again any time soon.
But unlike, say, Kevin Smith, Jeff doesn’t obsess over the “water kills aliens” part of the movie. Rather, he looks at the way every seemingly random element in the film family’s life comes together at the end in a meaningful way, and sees not a screenwriter’s contrivances, but a pattern that shows everything happens for a reason. It is, of course, easier to think that when you never leave the house and have weed on the brain. But today, Jeff will venture outside. He has a very important mission to undertake…that of buying wood glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon, looking better than she has in years), and fixing a shutter panel. The only reason he’s actually going to do it is because (a) it’s his mother’s birthday and (b) he doesn’t want her to yell at him over the phone again.
You may have figured out already that the glue is ultimately a metaphor, with the missing shutter panel he has to put back in place being a symbol of the hole in his own life. It’s not a massive stretch for the directorial team of the Duplass brothers, who first came to most cinephiles’ attention with The Puffy Chair, in which a quest for a perfect piece of furniture for a parent was actually about healing brotherly divides and romantic wounds. This movie isn’t really one for subtlety; though it’s a comedy, the constant xylophone-ish score keeps telling you that things are gonna get poignant eventually, and they do. The performances are good enough that you don’t need music bossing you around like that, but you get it anyway.
Jeff’s mission to get glue – and not in the online, movie-themed, free-sticker site way – gets thrown off course before he even sets foot outside the door, as an aggressive wrong-number caller demanding to speak to someone named Kevin plants a suggestion that will be followed for the rest of the day. While on the bus, Jeff sees a guy wearing a basketball jersey with “Kevin” written on the back, and opts to follow him into the wrong part of town, seeing in it a sign (hey, better he follows that Shyamalan movie than, say, Lady in the Water; you don’t want him staring at a swimming pool the whole time). A string of semi-coincidences ensue, many of which involve Jeff’s smarmier, more successful brother Pat (Ed Helms), who is having marital issues with spouse Linda (Judy Greer, who will always be “Deadly Girl” from The Specials to me). We did mention “healing brotherly divides and romantic wounds” earlier, right?
A secondary plot involves mom getting anonymous, flirty instant-messages at work. This B-story doesn’t really tie in to the whole coincidence theme as much, given that it focuses on someone going to a lot of trouble to get somebody else’s attention. It all comes back to seizing the day, but ultimately, don’t most movies? Characters who never change or do anything interesting aren’t the kind we want to watch very often.
The way things change toward the end won’t be for everyone, as the laughs morph into more emotional stuff that nonetheless is fairly obvious and not too depth-plumbing. The good-naturedness of the humor tided me over just fine, but should you pay for a big-screen viewing? Unless you love close-ups of the streets of Baton Rouge, DVD or cable will be fine. Plus that way you can watch it without leaving your own mother’s basement, and judging by what we see here, that’ll ultimately work out all right for you. And mom. So watch it with her, maybe. Unless, like mine, she’s liable to deliver a lecture about marijuana afterwards (note: I don’t smoke it, but I just know I’d get the lecture anyway).