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'Jeff, Who Lives At Home'

by Jake Mynatt

We are all adrift in life’s uncertain seas. There is a bright star in each of our skies waiting to guide us to our destiny. Some just need to wait for the dark before they can see it clearly.

Ronnie found himself adrift for the first time in a great long while when he was handed his walking papers from the institution, which he privately referred to as “the Laughing Academy”. He’d transitioned to orderly from security guard after he had shown a skilled hand at dealing with the mentally unbalanced during the Narcissist Uprising of ’09. Thanks to Ronnie’s “Fruitcake Whispering” skills, only egos were bruised in the incident.

I suppose I bear some of the responsibility for his current life condition, as it was my unscheduled check-out from the facility that put such a blemish on his employment record. If he wasn’t so well-stocked with pilfered Prozac supply he would probably be more acutely attuned to his rapid decline.

Ronnie found comfort in his local Redbox, renting piles of DVDs which he’d watch during fits of crying and handfuls of pills chased with chalky bong-hits that could get a brontosaurus rip-shit wasted. He was in the mood to laugh, so he bypassed the torture-porn and direct-to-video action stacks and went for the comedy, the top of which was Jeff, Who Lives at Home.

Jeff, played by the excellently-cast Jason Segel, is a man who sees cryptic logic in the universe. His view of life is that it provides clues to one’s purpose. When a wrong number calls demanding to speak to a “Kevin”, he believes this is the universe telling him that Kevin is going to play an important role in his life. His mother, played by Susan Sarandon, sends him on a simple errand to pick up wood glue to fix a cabinet door. On the bus, inevitably, he sees someone wearing a jersey with “Kevin” on the back, and thus his journey begins.

Ed Helms plays Jeff’s brother, Pat. He’s more successful than Jeff, mostly in that he’s married, has a job, and doesn’t live at home. But his life isn’t necessarily on track either. He’s just blown money he doesn’t have on a Porsche, much to the chagrin of his wife who has checked out of their relationship. As Jeff’s journey unfolds, the Universe crosses their paths. By comparison, Pat’s doing great, and it would seem that the job the Universe has for Jeff is to show Pat just how much his life really does suck. Soon, Pat’s wife, played by the always awesome Judy Greer, is suspected of possible infidelity which would have gone undetected where it not for Jeff following the clues of the Universe.

The film doesn’t go for the big laughs. Its humor is more subdued, drawing from farce and folly but keeping it mellow in tone. That’s not to say it’s not funny. With Ronnie ripping bong-hits every six minutes followed up with five and a half-minute coughing jags, there’s a subtlety that could have easily been missed if the film hadn’t endeared me enough to focus more closely. Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, it strays a bit from their “mumblecore” style, which is a film movement characterized by natural dialogue and small budgets. The straying is due to the film's $10 million budget. Everything else – from the loose writing to the odd “zoom in and pan quickly” cinematography – stays true to the movement.

The odd zooms of the cinematography took its toll on Ronnie’s chemical-addled mind, sending him running to the bathroom for a good portion of the film's runtime. He alternated between vomiting and begging an invisible God for forgiveness for his many transgressions. I’d like to think that the sub-plot involving Sarandon’s character’s secret admirer at her job was just perceived poorly by me because of those distractions, but in retrospect I must honestly say that it just didn’t work. It’s a clunky interruption to the flow of the film, less a B-story and more an afterthought in the quest for poignancy. On its surface, it’s wonderfully tied into the overall theme and provides a touching romance and a “waterfall” sequence that pays off on an earlier premise. But it’s actually the least believable and most over-the-top part of the film.

It goes without fear of being a spoiler that the Universe of Jeff, Who Live at Home does indeed know what it’s doing. I won’t reveal the true destiny that the Universe has in store for Jeff, except to say that it’s unexpected but not unwelcome. As lost as it was on Ronnie, who stumbled in before the third act in a bleary-eyed delirium, even he could sense that what had transpired in his absence just kind of made sense. When the Universe achieves harmony, it just has a certain feel to it.

Unfortunately, the Universe had a different set of instructions for Ronnie and sent him on a naked excursion onto the corner of a busy intersection in the kind of outburst that those with publicists would explain away as “exhaustion.” It began with his belief that there was a sequel to the film that would personally guide him towards his better tomorrow and sent him on an ill-fated journey to the local Redbox. It escalated when imaginary spiders were infesting his pockets which, naturally, meant he had to strip nude.

It ended when the police kindly had a family member come down and bring him back home for some much needed rest, no charges filed. The lights flipped on, and with one arm slung over the shoulder of his rescuer, Ronnie was dragged through the door and laid on the couch where he sunk into a deep snoring sleep.

“You gonna be okay, bro?” a familiar voice asked. And I found myself staring at the bewildered and over stressed face of Gary, whose walls I had once occupied. In the Universe of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, this would have been one of those odd zoom-in moments. Gary saw the DVD menu screen and decided to stay a while and play it again as Ronnie slept.

And the Universe provided me a bit of healing I didn’t realize I needed. Maybe it is destiny that from time to time I’ll be able to catch a movie with my friend Gary, unbeknownst to him, from the safe confines of these walls.

Jake Mynatt is a writer as Charles Manson is a singer/songwriter. By trade, he's a computer guy. He's married, and loving it so much he hopes to start dozens of secret families all over the country. That's just a joke, unless you're interested. Send headshots and a signed pre-nup to jake.mynatt [at] theinclusive.net