Better to stay at home than go to this dreadfully dull offeringMovie Review Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
When I was getting my master’s in fiction writing, one of my professors had a rule that has stuck with me for the last 13 years: “You can only have one coincidence per story.” Characters should be the engine of the story; their actions, decisions, quirks and mistakes need to cause the conflict or the quest or the need for change. When I see a movie about the profundity of coincidences, about how fate and destiny guide our lives, I bristle.
In one such movie, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Pat (Ed Helms) seems to feel the same way I do. When his younger brother Jeff (Jason Segel) claims he has seen a number of signs that are clearly pointing him to an important life event and when Jeff then sees Pat standing outside a Hooters – Pat dismisses Jeff’s theory as absurd. Jeff becomes enraged, and Pat is depicted as an imagination-less douche. Unfortunately, Pat was right.
But in the movie, Pat is a jerk and Jeff is a dreaming slacker, not a fool. Pat has a job, an apartment, a wife named Linda (Judy Greer), and, though he cannot afford it, a Porsche. Their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon), a widow, works in a cubicle and spends most of her time, it seems, being irritated by her sons’ behavior. After Jeff and Pat run into each other at Hooters, Pat agrees to drive Jeff home, and they end up seeing Linda getting into a car with another man. The rest of the movie follows Jeff and Pat’s absurd attempts to spy on Linda, with a major subplot about Sharon’s office-based secret admirer.
The Duplass brothers, who wrote and directed the film, seem to have been trying to make a parable about fate and, maybe, the false promise of the American dream. Or something like that. But instead, they’ve made a rather dull, occasionally amusing, occasionally unpleasant movie that could be used as a lesson in the misuse of the deus ex machina. “The god from the machine” refers to the plot device, first used by Greek playwrights, of dropping in an absurd, surprising, and contrived resolution to a plot’s conflict. It is the hallmark of a weak plot. In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, the Duplass brothers don’t appear in the film, but their machinations are far too visible.
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