Susan Luzzaro 9 p.m., Aug. 20
Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home
While contemplating the universe's daily arrangement of signs and fate, a wrong number in search of Kevin causes Jeff (Jason Segel), a particularly philosophical slacker, to mumble aloud, "There are no wrong numbers."
Yes there is. 1-800-Duplass.
Jeff believes that anything associated with the name Kevin is key to finding his way. It's as good a starting point as any in this cinematic void. Were it not for happenstance, and a zoom lens that appears slightly dislodged from its turret so as to artlessly dart at and away from its subjects, filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) would have no idea how to tell what little story they have scribbled on the back of a matchbook.
The brothers have zero concept of how to present unrealistic characters in a realistic setting and fare even worse when it comes to establishing a fantasy universe in which their mumblecorps of man-children can cavort.
For those not familiar with the term, Urban Dictionary defines mumblecore as, "A new amateur film movement. Some movies have bad sound quality thus people sound like they are mumbling. Low budget production. Popularized by a director (Andrew Bujalski) from the SXSW Film Festival."
Didn't this indistinct manner of delivering dialog start back in the '50's with Monty Clift and Brando? Surely if it's still alive and well, the two most successful contemporary practitioners of the form must be Adam Sandler and Casey Affleck.
The New York Times takes it one step further calling mumblecore, "More a loose collective or even a state of mind than an actual aesthetic movement, mumblecore concerns itself with the mundane vacillations of post-collegiate existence. It can seem like these movies, which star nonprofessional actors and feature quasi-improvised dialogue, seldom deal with matters more pressing than whether to return a phone call."
How this constitutes a full-blown cinematic genre will forever escape me -- it's camcorder "directors" finally getting around to discovering the basic tenets of Italian neorealism 60 years after the fact. At least Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha presents us with believable characters, not a convention of sitcom stick figures.
Jeff is 30 and still resides at home, while a troubled marriage and shiny new Porsche are thumbnail indications that his older, estranged brother Pat (Ed Helms) is the more successful of the two. In terms of contemporary Hollywood comedy, Pat's costly set of wheels can mean only one of two things: there is either a tree trunk or a swimming pool in its future.
Richard Linklater (Slacker) started the ball rolling, but I blame slob savant Judd Apatow and his willing stooges, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, for the current celluloid resurgence of Peter Pan syndrome. A man in his 30's still living with his mother hasn't been funny since the King of Comedy's Rupert Pupkin took up residence in Catherine Scorsese's basement.
At least Marty had the wisdom and fortitude to keep Ma Pupkin out of camera range. Susan Sarandon plays the boys' mother, and a large portion of her performance is literally phoned in from the safety of an office cubicle. In order to justify and perhaps pad the role, the Duplass Bros. throw in a "secret admirer" who has a flair for sending mom romantic PMs. The Duplasses don't do a very good job of keeping a secret. Patrons in adjoining theaters will be quick to figure out the mysterious co-worker's identity.
Sitcom star Segel began climbed the ranks of movie actor with appearances in several '90's teen comedies (Can't Hardly Wait, Dead Man on Campus). He brought strong slob-support to the role of Sam Schechter, a student who will do anything to get through college (so long as it involves cheating) in Dewey Nicks' better-than-average Slackers.
Segel teamed with friend and Freaks and Geeks creator Apatow on the intermittently charming Knocked Up and the parade of mentally delayed juveniles that followed in its wake has yet to cease. Prior to Jeff, Segel was last seen fisting Muppets.
Fellow TV actor Ed Helms has fared much better on the big screen. He's the funniest thing in The Hangover and anyone who can breathe fresh life into an insurance salesman is a genius in my book. (If you haven't seen it, Cedar Rapids is well worth your time.) The Duplasses give him little to work with; he's a meaner George picking on Segel's stoned Lenny. The audience I saw it with laughed hardest at Jeff's admission, "I like weed." That's basically the level of laughs you're in for.
Stay at home or better yet, there's another "Kevin" currently playing that you need to talk about. If only Tilda Swinton had sicced her serial killing son on this pair of Duplass dupas.
Reader Rating: Zero Stars
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