by Zac Sanford
Indie darlings, the Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark), reference the king of the "twist ending," M. Night Shyamalan, in their latest movie. It isn't necessary to know what happens in Signs, or what the big twist is, but know that it is a movie about coincidence, and every little thing has a purpose. Jeff (Jason Segel) laments about his love of the movie, with its multiple levels and you can't fully comprehend in just one viewing. There are layers upon layers by Shyamalan, all leading up to the final climatic battle with alien invaders.
Luckily for the viewers of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, there are no aliens taking over the world or getting in the way of the characters and their journeys of self-reflection and discovery. Instead Signs gives the Duplass Brothers an excuse to bring forth a script filled with moment after moment of coincidence. But it works. Jeff, his brother Pat (Ed Helms), and their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon), all have personal journeys to take, and the constant crossing of paths on an otherwise ordinary day leads to a decent conclusion of sacrifice.
Jeff is the typical type of character you'd find in a Duplass flick. He's a bit of a man-child who never found purpose in his life. He lives at home with his mother and can't even seem to finish a menial task like picking up wood glue to fix a broken shutter. With a constant cloud of pot smoke clouding his brain, he is easily distracted, and the day our movie begins (and ends) is no different. Before he can even head out the door to grab the glue, the only thing his mother wants done for her birthday, he answers a call that any other human would consider a wrong number or a prank call. The caller is looking for Kevin, who of course doesn't live at this home, but the caller doesn't believe Jeff and throws out a harmless and anonymous threat. Jeff racks his brain to recall who Kevin may be.
While Jeff may be the man-child, his brother Pat has his life put together--well, at least a little more than Jeff. Even though he's married and lives in a small apartment, things are going well enough to spring his latest purchase on his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), the ultimate in a man's mid-life crisis--a Porsche. Problem is, they can't afford it. Not all is well in his house, even if on the outside he seems to haves it all together. And a bigger surprise (and not really ruined here unless you've skipped the trailer), Linda may be having an affair, which Pat doesn't know about until one of those moments of coincidence.
Sharon, the mother of both, seems bored and at a dead-end spot in her life. She works in a call center for something we're never told. The highlight of her birthday isn't the thought of presents or being with family, but a secret admirer who has been sending paper airplanes and anonymous chat messages to her. With each flirty message, the hard exterior is chipped away, showing a woman past her prime, just looking for someone to connect with. Her own journey comes together with the others, leading to the biggest climax of any Duplass film.
Some viewers may be turned off by Jeff's child-like charm, but it worked deep down into my otherwise hardened core. He is a character with heart. All Jeff wants is for those to be happy around him, even if deep down he is miserable. There may be a million reasons why Jeff has never amounted to much in his life, but it is the little changes and coincidences around him on this eventful journey that will hopefully turn him around. And it isn't just Jeff who the audience will feel for, but everyone in the family, including Linda and her reasons for possible infidelity.