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Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Friday, March 16th, 2012

The title character of Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn’t seem to mind much that he lives at home. Thirty years old and jobless, Jeff wakes up in the morning and dictates notes to himself into a recorder while he’s in the john. They are notes about the movie Signs; they are notes about cosmic signs. Jeff, you see, believes not in happenstance but in destiny. And he’s sure, sitting around his mother’s basement in sweats he probably hasn’t changed out of in days, that his is going to be great.

Jason Segel is perfectly rumpled as Jeff, an oversize adolescent somehow both huge and gangly who gets annoyed when Mom (Susan Sarandon) calls to remind him to fix the blinds because God Mom, I’ll get to it all right?! but at the moment he’s busy trying to rearrange the letters in “Kevin,” whom a wrong caller asked for this morning. (“Knive” is one possible anagram, but Jeff wisely dismisses it.) So, out of possibilities, Jeff takes the bus money his mother left him to go to Home Depot, only he doesn’t quite make it. There’s a kid on the bus with “Kevin” on his jersey, so he follows him. Later, a candy-delivery truck is emblazoned with “Kevin,” so he follows that, too. And so on, until he gets he finally accepts where he’s meant to be and what he’s meant to be doing — and that’s not fixing the blinds.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass’s furthest venture away from their beloved mumblecore genre — but don’t call it mumblecore! — with co-stars such as Ed Helms and Judy Greer amping up the wattage and likely contributing improvisation skills so finely honed the results don’t feel like the genre’s usual bumbling improvisation. (One irritating tick the Duplasses hung on to: the abrupt in-and-out zoom on actors’ faces. It’s so real, man.) But overall this feels like — gasp — a regular ol’ Hollywood movie. Besides Jeff’s wanderings, subplots involve the tension between his uptight brother, Pat (Helms), and Pat’s wife, Linda (Greer), as well as a secret admirer Mom has at her office. The latter is the weakest of the storylines, as it goes off the rails the moment the twist — which is telegraphed — is revealed, leading to first an upset admiree and then, seemingly an instant later, an ecstatic admiree.

Pat and Linda give the film its real emotional oomph as a struggling couple dealing with possible infidelity. (Even before you even get to know them, you want to strangle Pat when he “surprises” Linda with a Porsche they can’t afford.) Their scenes, as Jeff helps one trail the other, may be semiwacky, but the gist ends up breaking your heart. As far as Jeff, just when you think he’s fulfilled his “Kevin” cosmos for the day, the Duplasses add on a dramatic but-of-course-this-happens climax that isn’t really necessary. Jeff, Who Lives at Home may wrap up a little too neatly, but — despite the downers I’ve mentioned — it’s a fun time throughout, with Segel and Helms playing off each other well and delivering more laughs than letdowns. If this is mumblecore, it’s an example you can shout about.

The Muppets

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

The genius of The Muppets has always been the show’s ability to cut its gee-whizness with winking self-deprecation and a hint of cynicism. The somewhat insufferable Kermit the Frog has his rainbow-connectedness karate-chopped by an always-insufferable but realist Miss Piggy. Fozzie Bear and his terrible jokes are heckled by cranky balcony-dwellers Statler and Waldorf. And in the new film The Muppets, chickens sing — to Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You.”

Resuscitated by lifelong fan Jason Segel, who co-wrote and stars in the film, the Muppets are back to win over a new generation of fans. No, they won’t get the jokes about Benson or Tab, and they probably won’t recognize Mickey Rooney or Dave Grohl (the latter winning Coolest Cameo Ever). In fact, much of the script’s dry humor will go over little ones’ heads, such as Amy Adams playing an elementary-school teacher who heads an auto-mechanics class (“And that’s how you fix a 12-volt starter!”) or when her character, Mary, says when the inevitable conflict is introduced, “This is going to be a really short movie.”

And Los Angeles, where Segel’s big-kid Gary, his girlfriend, Mary, and his Muppet brother, Walter, go for vacation? It’s not quite Tinseltown but a city alight with police sirens. There’s even a barbershop-quartet performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (Hard to imagine Courtney Love giving the go-ahead, but it must have happened.)

But there’s gotta be a good-versus-evil angle, and in this case it’s saving the dilapidated Muppet Studios from an oil baron (Chris Cooper) who says he’s going to turn the place into a museum but really plans to drill, baby, drill. (As the character, who embarrassingly raps in one of the film’s more misguided numbers, would say, “Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh.”) So the Muppets, now spread all over the world pursuing different careers, must regroup to put on a last-ditch telethon show. (Kermit and Gary et al. gather a couple of the crew before Kermit’s helper robot says, “May I suggest we save time and pick up the rest of the Muppets using a montage?”)

Though there are multiple setbacks, the show, of course, eventually comes together, and when the Muppet theme song is finally played — well, members of a certain generation may feel a little tingle if not a happy tear. It’s no spoiler to say the telethon is a triumph, as is the movie itself: Segel’s pitch-perfect in his gee-whiz performance (though Adams is underused), he’s written the Muppets true to their characters, and every sentimentality is counterbalanced with a hit of dry wit. Even Statler and Waldorf would approve.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

My apologies for this mere blurb, hope to expand on it shortly:

http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2008-04/37891096.jpg

Much, much more to love

 

Breaking up is hard to do when you’re wearing nothing but a pout and were just regaling your soon-to-be-ex with a celebratory wang-flapping to welcome her home.

Yes, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another Apatowian romance, and once again the It producer and his crew have conjured fresh, dirty ways to make rom-com mush tolerable. Jason Segel earns the bulk of the credit here, though, not only starring as Peter, the musician dumped by his titular actress girlfriend (Kristen Bell), but also penning a debut script that doesn’t completely shun genre contrivances but feels believable nonetheless.

More important, it’s funny: Segel’s melancholic, genial Peter out-Everymans Seth Rogen with quips that are quick without seeming crack-fueled, and a supporting cast including Jack McBrayer, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Mila Kunis, Paul Rudd, and Russell Brand help ease/exacerbate Peter’s misery when he arrives at a Hawaiian resort to lick his wounds, only to run into Sarah and her new beau.