Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass) is a generally light, often funny and often very human comedy about two grown brothers, Jeff (played by Jason Segal) and Pat (played by Ed Helms) and their mom, Sharon (played by Susan Sarandon), none of whom ever really recovered from the death of their father/husband many years/decades earlier.

Jeff never really grew up.  As the title declares, Jeff, approaching or even passing age 30, still "lives at home," in the basement.  Pat, though married, to Linda (played by Judy Greer), also hasn't really grown-up and as we quickly observe has more or less obvious problems in his marriage.  Finally, even though there's reference to Sharon having had a number of relationships in earlier years following the death of her husband's, at 50+ she's finding herself increasingly worried that time for that has passed.  Further, she's not blind to and is clearly unhappy with the emotional stuntedness of both of her sons.  She confesses to Carol, a coworker (played by Rae Dawn Chong) that she finds herself "hating" her sons.  "When did that happen?" she asks, "They used to be so cute..."

The story takes place over the course of a single day, mom's (Sharon's) birthday.  Jeff's getting up, late as usual.  The phone rings.  On the phone there's a voice demanding to talk to "Kevin."  Somewhat confused, Jeff answers, "There's no Kevin living here..." The caller hangs up.  But then Jeff in his naivete no doubt "helped" by years of smoking marijuana (Parents definitely take note ...) asks himself "What if there are no wrong numbers? What if every phone call that we receive we're supposed to receive."  He pulls out his bong..., does a couple of hits and then starts playing with the letters in the name Kevin, searching for a potential message in the name....

Soon however mom calls, from work..., asking Jeff to just get dressed, take the money that she left for him on the kitchen table, go to a hardware store, buy some glue and finally fix wooden shutter on the venetian blind that's been broken for some time.  And she asks him to do this "as a present to her" for her birthday.  Mildly irritated -- after all he has a "Kevin mystery" to solve :-) -- Jeff gets dressed, takes the $10 left for him on the kitchen table, heads off to the bus stop (of course...) to take the bus to the hardware store to get the glue.  Much ensues ...

What follows is generally a light comedy of errors as well as (as the reader/viewer would surely guess) a reflection on our "interconnectedness." 

HOWEVER, there is an aspect of the film that some more conservative Catholics/Christians will not like, in good part because it comes rather "out of left field" (unexpectedly).  I don't know how to approach the subject without revealing a fairly key event in the trajectory of the story other than having warned readers in this way (that some more conservative readers will not like it), I recommend that those who don't want reviews to reveal too much about the film to stop reading here (with parents just noting the drug use mentioned above).

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ONWARD.  As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Sharon (the mother) is very, very lonely.  Yet, this day because it is her birthday, she starts getting rather flirtatious e-mails over the company server and someone throws a paper airplane into her cubicle.  When she opens up the paper airplane, it opens up into a picture of a flower.  So she gets all excited about the possibility of there being a "secret admirer" among her co-workers.  Then to some initial horror, she finds that her "secret admirer" is her best friend at the office / confidante Carol and, further to her initial horror/discomfort it becomes clear that Carol meant her flirtations seriously/sincerely.  So a movie about "interconnectedness" now becomes a movie at least in part about age 50+ lesbianism.

What to do now?  In part, propagandists/extremists on both sides will feel thoroughly "validated" by the film's unexpected turn of events.  More activist gays ("We're here, we're queer, deal with it...") could applaud the film's bravery, while those ardently opposed to any kind of accommodation with what they perceive as a "Gay agenda," could feel that this film _proves_ the validity of their greatest concern: That gays/lesbians will not be content with living out their lifestyle within the community of  those openly gay but seek to "evangelize" everybody, even obviously straight people, coercing them to get involved in relationships (or reject and therefore cause pain to manipulative gay acquaintances) that they would more or less obviously not freely choose.  In the film while initially recoiling at horror to Carol's come-on, Sharon rather quickly becomes "more open to it."  Whether this reflects reality, I'd let the reader/viewer decide, my only adding that Sharon's reaction in the film is, of course, dictated by the demands of the filmmakers/script ...

My own opinion in the matter could be summarized by these two points:  First, I think the situation actually illustrates somewhat well the Catholic Church's fundamental position on homosexuality, that it's a disordered condition.  Over the last few decades plenty of us, myself included, have not particularly liked the pejorative connotation that the word "disordered" carries.  I would suggest difficult condition could be better.  Indeed, Vatican's Declaration on homosexually after labeling it a "disordered condition" continues declaring that most homosexuals experience their condition "as a cross."  Hence difficult could be a far better adjective to use than disordered.  Further, since most studies indicate that only a small percentage of people are actually homosexual, rejection, already difficult for anybody becomes even more common / a burden for gays than for straights.  And yet, if one truly believes and respects freedom of conscience/choice, one has to respect the sincere heterosexual letting down the homosexual with the words, "I'm sorry, but I really am not that way."

My second concern would be this.  I'm finding the trend toward sexualizing friendship in film / culture annoying/dangerous.  How many women have wanted over these past decades to be treated by men as friends rather than sex objects?  The scene played out between Sharon and Carol sexualizes what Sharon had previously treasured as a friendship (and here not even between her and a man, but her and another woman).  Where or when does it stop?  Today, after a serious of profoundly disturbing scandals (that obviously the Catholic Church has been involved in) any kind of sexual relationship between an adult and a minor is considered as perverse by society.  Yet, if we continue the trend of sexualizing human relationships, will sexualized relationships between adults and minors come to be seen as okay, indeed inevitable, in the future?

The Catholic Church, while not denying the power of the sex drive, calling it Lust in times past, nevertheless defends the right of people to consider themselves as more than merely sexual beings.  Yes, "male and female God created them" [Gen 1:28].  But we are more than just this.

In this light, I would invite readers to read John Paul II's two Apostolic Letters On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) [1988] and On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church (Redemptoris Custos) [1989], as they are reflections on the dignity and vocations of men and women extending beyond the realm of the merely sexual.  Yes, the sexual aspect of our human nature is important but it can not be allowed to be all defining.

 Returning then to the film, I found, Jeff, Who Lives at Home to often be very good, but it does take unsuspecting viewers down a path that they did not necessarily bargain for when they entered the theater.  Thus viewers ought to be warned.  Beyond the film's surprising "philosophical turn" regarding homosexuality, parents ought to be warned (as above) at the film's open portrayal of drug use.

Still despite these rather large "strikes" against it, the "interconnectedness theme" as well as the characters' dealing (even many years/decades later) with the effect of the loss of a parent/spouse makes the film worthy of adult consideration/reflection.  Just come to the film prepared for all that it is about...

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

1 comment:

  1. This could have had so much more potential to be better than it already was but it had lazy writing. Everything was one big coincidence and the end was way too heavy and cheesy to make this somewhat slacker comedy reach out. Good review though Dennis. It had its moments and a good cast but it bothered me a little too much.