Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: R Length: 83 minutes
Age Appropriate for: 15+. There is harsh language among family, as well as some minor scuffling. References to sexual activity abound, but nothing more than a tame kiss appears on screen. Marijuana use is depicted, and there is some drinking, followed by driving, followed by crashing.
Folks looking for a slacker “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” or “The Hangover” may be disappointed, but not necessarily displeased. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is a languid, heartfelt comedy of errors set in a world where there are supposedly no mistakes.
By Jared Peterson
Jeff (a slouching Jason Segel) is 30, jobless and untethered from any responsibility. But he is looking for order in the universe. Or, rather, orders from the universe.
Jeff believes fervently, desperately, that there are no accidents in this world, and that the signposts of life are all around, if only one pays attention. Thus has he has been waiting patiently for the better part of a decade for the word “go”.
But today he’ll settle for the word “Kevin”—a name shouted at him by someone calling the house by mistake. Jeff is certain the wrong number must somehow be right. When his exasperated mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) demands that he run an errand to the hardware store, it’s enough to oust him from his basement cocoon. Over the course of the day, he follows seemingly random, possibly imagined clues that might just help him get a life.
Along the way, he crosses paths with his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), who has a life, a job and a wife, Linda (the wonderful Judy Greer), whom he doesn’t appreciate. Another chance encounter leads the two to suspect that Linda may be having an affair. Kooky misadventures ensue, mixed with harsh realizations—typical, yes, but still touching. In the midst of the film’s bitter, longish—and, therefore, pretty realistic—conversations about fate and responsibility, very distinct jokes come bubbling up, the kinds of laugh lines that make the editors of movie trailers very happy.
The dour dejectedness of the characters comes into focus when we find out about a loss in their lives. The death of Jeff’s father years before has had a profound effect on the family, causing each of them to stall in different phases of life. Sharon feels abandoned and defensive. She hasn’t dated much since her husband’s death; at her office, she is briefly charmed by instant messages from a secret admirer, but she’s also unusually wary, afraid that she is being duped or mocked. Of her two sons, Pat is in some ways the more pathetic. He’s no less adrift than his brother; he’s just clinging to a rickety raft of his own making. Pat “does something” with his life, but feels nearly nothing. Jeff, meanwhile, does nothing but feels everything. One can imagine that in his bathrobe-and-basement life, Jeff has watched a lot of TV, because he has an almost compulsive need to punch up the meaning of events rather than simply live them.
In some ways we’ve seen Jeff before, in the flashback scenes of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” where Segel’s character Peter moped and mourned after devastating breakup. Jeff is a lot like Peter, only without the cash to go to Hawaii or the game to land Kristen Bell or Mila Kunis. But unlike Peter, Jeff has the kind of optimism only possible when unburdened by past success. In his mind, receiving the right signs from the universe has been worth staying unattached for—and “Kevin”, whoever or whatever he is or represents, is worth leaving the house for. Whether or not the universe works in mysterious ways, Jeff’s belief that it does will be the key to his redemption.