Movie Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]
Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer
Runtime: 83 Minutes

Living as a 30-year-old shut-in would seemingly provide an ample amount of time to think about things and attempt to gain a greater meaning from life. Especially if said shut-in is a pot smoking slacker who lives in his mother’s basement. This is Jeff (Jason Segel), a guy who coasts through life while waiting for his destiny to come to him. He has a strong affinity for M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 film, Signs, and he believes that everything happens for a reason, just like in that movie.

One day, Jeff receives a phone call from an angry person looking for “Kevin”. This is a seemingly wrong number dial to anyone else, but Jeff does not see it this way. He takes this to be a sign and heads off to run an errand, which allows him the opportunity to keep an eye out for more potential clues. This simple trip to the hardware store becomes an adventure when he sees a young guy on the bus wearing a “Kevin” basketball jersey. A series of unexpected events leads Jeff to run into his detached older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who seemingly has it all: a wife, a house, a well-paying job.

However, the two of them stumble upon Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer) having lunch with another man. In an effort to find out what is going on, they begin following her car, acting as amateur private detectives. Suddenly their mundane day has become an adventure.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

We also meet the mother of Jeff and Pat, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who is randomly instant messaged by someone at work, a secret admirer. This gives her normal office routine a pleasant jolt, quite similar to what is happening with her sons.

This all ties together in a charming, pleasing way, and there are quite a few laughs throughout. The Duplass brothers have an offbeat sense of humor (see: 2010’s Cyrus), but it works quite well with such strong names attached to the script. Segel and Helms are given a chance to show off their acting chops, as each are given some surprisingly powerful dramatic moments. One scene involving Helms and Greer arguing about their dysfunctional marriage is about as raw and vivid as it gets.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

While sweet and generally pleasing, the film has some noticable issues. The Duplass brothers have a bizarre tendency to frequently zoom in and out at a rapid pace, which ultimately feels unnecessary in the context of the film. I also noticed several instances where the characters would leave a situation without properly resolving the matter (i.e. not paying for a bill at a restaurant, not paying taxi fare, etc.). Minor quibbles, yes, but these loose ends could have been easily tied up.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home has gained a wider release than I would have guessed (I saw it at an AMC Theater), which is a nice surprise for a film like this. While not perfect, the movie is an enjoyable affair that wisely mixes up humor and drama, all while utilizing a great cast with solid chemistry.

7/10

For a counter viewpoint, take the words from another moviegoer at my theater. Displeased with my reaction of “it was pretty good”, this loudmouth patron yelled “Pretty good?!?!? THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!” So yeah, your mileage may vary.

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II [2011]

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II [2011]
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

By all accounts, 2009’s The Hangover was a rousing success. It grossed a stunning $467 million worldwide and received generally positive acclaim from both critics (78% on Rotten Tomatoes) and casual moviegoers alike. Therefore, a sequel was inevitable. Two years later, here we are with The Hangover: Part II, a second effort that follows the original formula right down to a T.

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha are back playing the same group of guys in the original Wolfpack. This time around Stu Price (Helms) is getting married in Thailand. Stu’s planned “Bachelor Brunch” is laughed at by his bros, and he is persuaded later that evening to go out for a beer. Of course, one beer turns into god-knows-how-many, and the fellas wake up with massive hangovers with similar predicaments as the last film.

The Hangover Part II

In lieu of a missing tooth (as in the first), Stu now has a face tattoo identical to Mike Tyson’s. Alan (Galifianakis) has a shaved head. Doug (Bartha) wisely abandoned the group after the aforementioned one beer, and he is resting peacefully at the resort. While Doug went missing in the first one, that honor goes to 16-year-old Teddy (Mason Lee), Stu’s future brother-in-law who joined in on the debauchery. His disappearance is even more frenzied because one of his fingers was found on the coffee table. Throw in a monkey in place of the first movie’s baby, and swap Las Vegas for Bangkok, and you essentially have the same comedy with a different coat of paint.

While the lack of originality is somewhat disconcerting, this comedy formula still works. Raunch is piled on to the point of excess, but that is what these type of comedies are all about. As one might expect with a movie set in Bangkok, more emphasis is put on the seedy underbelly of the city. Sex and drugs are heavily on display, and there is one extended scene at a strip club where Stu gets a little too friendly with a ladyboy. There is so much lewd behavior on hand that Zach Galifianakis swore never to show this movie to his mother. If you’re offended easily, you will want to skip out on this.

The Hangover Part II

There are some obvious issues with the movie. The acting is lackluster at times, especially when the group is actually at the wedding resort. Stu and his future wife Lauren (Jamie Chung) have no chemistry, and her performance is about as bad as they come. Ken Jeong is back as Mr. Chow and is as annoying as ever. I still don’t get the appeal for that guy, and I’m not sure why his micro-penis needs to be shown in both movies. Also, the ending wraps things up a bit too neatly, with huge problems being dismissed far too easily.

As it stands, The Hangover Part II is a darker, even raunchier version of the original, and it stays true to the form. Chances are if you liked the first one, you will like this as well. The movie has lost some of its charm, but it still provides enough laughs to keep things entertaining throughout. I’m not sure a third sequel is necessary, however.

7/10

Cedar Rapids [2011]

Cedar Rapids [2011]

Cedar Rapids [2011]
Directors: Miguel Arteta
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

Oh, Ed Helms, you sly devil. When I saw you for the first time on The Office, I didn’t like your character. Andy Bernard was obnoxious and sometimes just plain annoying, and I didn’t want him on the show at all. Yet something happened. I started to laugh at some of his actions, and then he began an epic rivalry with Dwight Schrute. How could I not like the guy after that? Seeing Ed Helms in one of the best roles in The Hangover helped him earn even more respect from me, so much so that I eagerly anticipated Cedar Rapids, a recent comedy in which he obtained his first leading role.

In this movie, Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a small town insurance agent who is sent by his company to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an annual industry convention. His goal is to win the coveted “Two Diamond” award for his company. Leaving his hometown is something new for Tim. He makes sure to carry a travel wallet underneath his shirt — he is in a big city after all — and he is impressed by his hotel and its pool: “There’s palm trees and the whole place smells like chlorine. It’s like I am in Barbados or somewhere.”

As a naive young man, Lippe is easily influenced by others at his convention, particularly the amusing trio of characters played by John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Anne Heche. Reilly plays a party animal, par for the course for him, and dishes out some great lines (and lots of “muff diving” references). I was glad to see Whitlock have a good-sized role here, since I don’t recall seeing him in anything other than The Wire. He even makes a couple of hilarious references to the HBO show, which made me very, very happy. Heche fits right in with the guys as a sultry vixen who holds her own and keeps the men on their toes. All four of the main characters provide some very entertaining moments while maintaining a human aspect to them. They never devolve into caricatures of themselves, which is a huge plus.

The actors that fill out small roles are tremendous as well. Sigourney Weaver plays Lippe’s love interest and former grade-school teacher. Kurtwood Smith (aka “Red” from That 70’s Show) plays the leader of the convention, a man who is comfortable in his own skin, to say the least. Alia Shawkat (aka “Maeby” from Arrested Development) is entertaining as a prostitute who Lippe obtains a strange interest in. Rob Corddry, Mike O’Malley and Thomas Lennon all have brief cameos, too.

While Cedar Rapids doesn’t really break any new ground, it is a fun ride from beginning to end. The plot pretty much goes as you expect it to, but that’s not a bad thing at all when there is such a strong cast to support it. Big props are deserved for Ed Helms, who does a great job in his first leading role. I would like to see him branch out more next time and try a new type of character, but there’s no denying he is good at what he does. Cedar Rapids is one of the best comedies to come out in the last year or so, and it is well worth seeing.

8/10