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Review: Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Ken Korman on the New Orleans-shot comedy, which stars Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon

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Film movements tend to start small. Typically they involve a loosely connected group of filmmakers with shared ideas working toward some kind of innovation. The most important film movements get bigger after they prove highly influential and acquire impressive names like "Italian neorealism." Then there's mumblecore, a 10-year-old wave of independent movies that stick to tiny budgets, often feature nonprofessional actors and improvised dialogue, look like documentaries and generally champion smallness above all else. What happens when all that minimalism collides with its polar opposite — Hollywood?

  One thing that happens is Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the fifth feature film by Metairie-born-and-raised brothers and filmmaking partners Mark and Jay Duplass. The Duplass brothers have been linchpins of mumblecore since it began. Their early films, with names like The Puffy Chair and Baghead, hit big at indie film festivals but were not built for broad appeal. With 2010's Cyrus, the Duplass brothers moved gingerly toward the multiplex, working with a Hollywood studio that had to convince the brothers to take some extra money to "spruce up" their movie. But the real difference in Cyrus, and especially in the earnest and endearing Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is the addition of talented and familiar actors who can take the Duplasses' obsession with real-life characters and dialogue and make it work on the big screen.

  Of course, real life is messy and awkward, which can make individual scenes in a Duplass brothers movie difficult to watch. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is no exception. But Jason Segel saves the day in the title role as an appealingly loopy everydude, 30 years old and still living and smoking pot in his mom's basement. Jeff ponders his destiny and searches for signs. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) is a jerk who neglects his wife (Judy Greer). Pat and Jeff both manage to torture their long-suffering mom (Susan Sarandon), who has issues of her own. Their paths intersect repeatedly on the single day covered by the movie. Pure coincidence propels the story, but the randomness feels pretty real. The film's final 15 minutes are something you won't see coming at all, and it will either make your day or make you roll your eyes.

  Jeff, Who Lives at Home also benefits from its distinct local flavor. Most Hollywood South movies could have been made anywhere. This one was shot in Baton Rouge and takes place there, but it has New Orleans on its mind. A restaurant called Cochon figures prominently in the story, and when two characters decide it's finally time to cut loose and change their lives, they resolve to drive to New Orleans right then and there. It's great to see the Duplass brothers bring it all back home. Sometimes local boys really do make good. — KEN KORMAN


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