The Duplass Brothers Invite Notable Friends to Their Cinematic Home
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
See here, Jeff (Jason Segel), indeed lives at home with his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). He’s smoking weed and wallowing in a state of ennui. That’s just a fancy way of saying that he’s slacking his way through life. At one time, he played high school basketball and was on track to be a fine upstanding member of society — in theory, like his brother Pat (Ed Helms), a married low-level blue collar guy who dreams of cruising around town in a Porsche while his wife (Judy Greer) aims to save up money for a new house.
It’s Mama Sharon’s birthday and she’s been sleepwalking through life too, watching her boys diddle and dawdle, not completely aware that she’s missing out on her own happiness.
The Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay, have spearheaded a movement, Mumblecore, beginning with The Puffy Chair (2005) and Baghead (2008) that has slipped through the cracks into the indie scene. Everything about it speaks to raw sketchy filmmaking. The narratives and dialogue sound like they have been borne out of late-night bull sessions fueled with weed and munchies. And the brothers make movies like a garage band, in the solitude of their back rooms with their closest buddies.
But there has been a gradual shift in their approach. Cyrus, from 2010, featured John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill and Catherine Keener and attracted attention, obviously thanks to that cast – Academy Award nominees and winners. Here were characters able to infuse the Duplass plot with that real spark, that necessary buzz capable of breaking them and their movement.
And now comes the next step. Jeff, Who Lives At Home looks and sounds like the band’s been discovered by an A&R guy at a record label, given the chance to mix it up in a real studio, and a couple of pros happened to drop by for an impromptu jam that ended up on tape. No one’s trying too hard and they all find the pocket.
This Home is a tasty slow cooker, despite having a couple of leads, Jeff and his brother Pat, who aren’t the easiest guys to spend time with. In lesser hands, or actors without the appeal of Segel and Helms, audiences may have felt disconnected, even uncomfortable in the company of these guys. But we have a hopeful glimpse buried beneath their weird shells. So much of Mumblecore has been about the kooky idea and the lazy slackerish vibe — the anti-reactions of the players involved caught up in these moments.
Another pleasant surprise is Rae Dawn Chong, pretty back in the day, but now, grown and sexy in a profound way. Funny and touching too, as she banters back and forth with Sarandon. These two co-workers are ready to ditch and find their true homes in the world together, and they seem like a perfectly suited pair — who would have ever thought to match them up? A huge score for the Duplass brothers, but not so hard to figure.
Missing is their father. The man stands outside each and every frame, watching over the boys and Sharon too. There’s love watching and it tints our vision of these frames. We start to love everyone, warts and all. Jeff, Who Lives At Home is not Mumblecore: it is grown up, mature, even as it focuses on a cast of characters stuck in a state of arrested development.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com