Monday, October 01, 2012

Portraits in Sibling Rivalry: "Jeff, who Lives at Home" is an indie film, in case you didn't get it

Ed Helms and Jason Segel, sitting in a tub in a hotel room, legs dangling over the edge.  If that isn't an indie film moment, nothing is.  How did we get to this point?  How?
This is probably a stupid question, but I'll ask it anyway.  If a) you're two brothers in today's world, and b) you aspire to make movies, what's stopping you?  How low is the bar?  When a star says that they loved the script, do we need to hold their feet to the fire?  Jason Segel's about as busy these days as Seth Rogen was a few years ago.  Another star from the Judd Apatow Stock Company, he's just ruined the Muppets (according to some) and he's apparently a regular on CBS's hit show How I Met Your Mother.  He made four movies in 2011, one of which is Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  It's different enough, and for me it walked that fine line between comedy and drama well enough, but I don't know.  If my tone up til now hasn't been clear, the movie seems to die the death of a thousand cuts.  Let's begin.
As with Albert Brooks' 1996 movie, Mother, we have the portrait of two brothers: one who's a conventional American success story: job, wife, what have you, and we have the less successful brother who's living in his mom's basement.  We get xylophone-heavy music similar to American Beauty and Paying it Forward.  Then we see the brother in the basement taking some bong hits.  The first movie I remember this happening in proper is Jackie Brown.  It's of course a lot more common now; why, I believe Albert Brooks had it in his last directorial effort Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World!  Jeff's day and worldview are put on tilt when he receives a call from an angry black man who sounds vaguely like J.B. Smoove.  The angry black man asks for "Kevin."  Was I the only one reminded of Arsenio Hall at the beginning of Amazon Women on the Moon who kept getting calls from someone asking for Thelma?  I thought so.  If only the whole movie was that good.  Amazon Women, that is.  Back to the instant case.
Now we turn to Ed Helms and his wife Linda, played by Judy Greer.  Between this and Henry's Crime, she's in mortal danger of being typecast as the indie movie wife who gets left for more attractive fare.  Otherwise, she's the new Anne Heche, perhaps.  You can tell a marriage is in trouble when a gesture is openly called "water for a (dying) plant."  In this case, Helms makes breakfast for the two of them.  Strawberries are called "strawbs."  The monosyllabization of everything continues unabated.  I'm sorry, I mean "shortz."  Then, the big fight breaks out: Ed Helms wants a Porsche.  Linda makes a perfectly reasoned argument about how money's tight, how she's cut back on her expenses, and how it's a bad idea in general.  Ed jangles the keys, and takes her outside to show off the Porsche.  She throws her breakfast onto the Porsche, and hoses it down with ketchup.  That went well!
Even though the two brothers are estranged, their paths cross.  Jeff is tasked with taking the bus to Home Depot to buy wood glue and fixing the blinds in the house, but his obsession quickly turns to all things named "Kevin" instead.  The wood glue might have to wait.  Meanwhile, Pat... I'll call him by his character name now, I promise... Pat is having a business lunch at Hooters with a skeptical co-worker.  Pat takes a "business call" but we all quickly figure out that it's mom (Susan Sarandon).  Pat sees Jeff wandering around outside the Hooters and intervenes.  The co-worker is abandoned, and Pat takes Jeff for a ride in the new Porsche.  Unfortunately, the ride ends up much like an episode that once happened to Homer Simpson.  It's up on YouTube, in fact!  Here's the link... if the copyright lawyers have their way, it might not be for long.
As you may have gathered, the film's not as elitist as a Noah Baumbach project, but there does seem to be a running theme about white people getting to know black people.  The mom has a similar episode at her generic office workplace.  Her subplot: a secret admirer starts communicating with her at work via Yahoo! Instant Messenger.  Who could it be?  I figured it out right away, but I dare not spoil it for the rest of you.  Depending on how jaded you are, the way Sarandon's dreams of standing under a waterfall come to fruition will either be the most tender thing in the world, or just another artifact of indie film.
Then, the film turns into a private eye caper, as the brothers try to spy on Pat's wife Linda as she seemingly tries to have an affair.  They end up seeing the car in a hotel parking lot.  Was I the only one who thought of Alan Arkin's wife in Freebie and the Bean?  I thought so.  It's all played for laughs at first, but when we find out that it's not like a J.J. Abrams show, that it's really what it looks like, then things get dramatic.  That's how things seem to go throughout this movie.
The movie opens with a deep philosophical quote from Jeff.  I couldn't help but think of the quote at the beginning of A Serious Man: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." - Rashi.  ...I think that's what it was.  We ultimately didn't finish the movie, but that's probably the best ending of all.  Oh, and the use of zoom lens got really really annoying.  Kubrick liked zoom lenses too, but didn't use them in every freaking scene.  Besides, Tony Scott's Unstoppable was like that!  It's not original!  Okay, I better stop.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

No comments: