Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -2; L -6; S/N-3 . Running time: 1 hour 23 min.
Our Star rating (1-5): 3.5

Then he said to him, ‘If now I have found favour with you,
then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.
Judges 6:17

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom…
1 Corinthians 1.22

Two brothers, as different from each other as Jacob & Esau.

© 2012 Paramount Vantage

Directed by brothers Jay and Mark Dupluss this little tale takes place on the birthday celebration of Sharon (Susan Sarandon) the mother of 30 year-old Jeff, who has no job and lives in the basement of her home. The dope- smoking slacker watches the film Signs over and over because he himself is looking for a sign that he thinks will lead him to his destiny. The universe, he believes, is meaningful, with coincidences connected together that will show him his purpose. All this we learn as he dictates his thoughts into a tape recorder—while sitting on the toilet. (So much for profundity!) The film’s title sums up Jeff’s situation pretty well.

Sharon calls him from work to demand that he fix a broken shutter on her kitchen cabinet, something that she has done many times before, and always thus far to no avail. Jeff has an employed brother Pat (Ed Helms), to whom, of course, she compares him unfavorably. If she only knew what a jerk her older son is, so self-centered that he disregards his wife’s Linda’s (Judy Greer) dream of saving for their own home. Instead he has gone out and blown their savings on a Porsche. He even thinks that she will be pleased because he got it for such a good price. Standing on their balcony looking down on it, she quickly disabuses him of this by dumping her breakfast on it.

After talking with his mother, another phone call to Sharon and Jeff’s home turns out to be a wrong number, the caller asking for “Kevin.” Jeff leaves home to buy what he needs to fix the cabinet, and encounters a series of “Kevins” that confirm him in this belief that “Kevin” is his sign, even though one of them results in his being beat up by some urban toughs with whom he plays basketball. Part of his adventures that day also include his unexpectedly teaming up with Pat, who has become suspicious that Linda is cheating on him. Why else would she be having lunch with another guy in a restaurant? While watching them outside, Pat insists that his brother go into the restaurant and try to eavesdrop on their conversation. Not a good idea, it turns out.

There is also a subplot involving the brothers’ mother. At her 9 to 5 job she has settled into a dull routine ever since her husband died. Her only friend at the office is Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), or so she thinks, until she begins receiving email messages from someone claiming to be a secret admirer. She wonders who this can be, and suddenly she perceives everything and everyone around her in a new and fresh way. The secret admirer reveals that it is someone in the office who desires her. The identity of the admirer will not please all viewers.

Thus we have three lives—the two brothers and their mother—who are faced with decisions that day which can change the direction of their lives. All this comes to a head in an unlikely crisis on a bridge spanning Lake Pontchartrain (the characters live in Baton Rouge) when, during a traffic jam, Jeff by following the series of “Kevin” signs discovers his surprising purpose in life, at least for that day. Much in the film seems a bit contrived, but the message is that the universe is meaningful. That we are not just aimless human beings adrift in the world is one that people of faith can affirm. The humor is not the rolling in the aisles kind, and some will object to the casual acceptance of pot smoking, but all in all this is better than most slacker comedies.

Note: Discussion questions are available with this review in the May/June 2012 issue of  Visual Parables journal. The journal also includes many extras–book reviews, the use of films for church seasons, a lectionary related column, and more. Hundreds of old reviews are also available in the subscribers; section. Check out the sample issue.