Jeff, Who Lives at Home focuses on pothead metaphysics
Graduating college can be rough. Some find it hard to break into the real world and instead find themselves sleeping in their parent’s basement. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, showing at the Boulder International Film Festival this week, follows Jeff ( Jason Segel) as he focuses on something more philosophical than finding a job.
Written and directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, whose previous work include Bagheads and Cyrus, explores the stereotypical family dynamics. Jeff ’s mom (Susan Sarandon) wants him to get a job, and his brother (Ed Helms) wants to stop picking up Jeff ’s slack.
Jay Duplass talked to Boulder Weekly about his new movie and the point when the 30-year-old sleeping on the couch just isn’t cute anymore.
“Inspiration came from, not the concept of living at your mother’s house, but people who move sort of laterally to college or basements in order to ponder the greater meaning of the world and maybe smoke marijuana and not get anything done in the decade after their college experience,” Duplass says.
People may call it a stoner film, Duplass says, but Jeff is a character that transcends the genre. In the movie, Jeff spends a day trying to follow through with his grandiose ideas about destiny and the universe.
“We are in awe of and admire those people who live and operate in magical realms,” Duplass says. “We see them as heroes because they live more moment-to-moment and allow themselves to see more. Jeff is kind of a hero character that we haven’t seen before.”
The script was written seven years ago, when the brothers were around the same age as Jeff. The movie was put on hold until they could get enough money — the budget for one scene involving a car crash exceeded budgets of entire movies they had done in the past.
“We’re the opposite of most movie directors because we’re constantly scaling our budget down as much as possible,” Duplass says. “The most important thing we want to do is make a movie that is great, and second, we want to make it as cheap as possible.”
That’s a hard task considering the list of celebrities they’ve worked with, which includes Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei. Duplass says they’ve been lucky to have actors approach them and want to do their movies. One reason may be their unique approach to filmmaking, which includes long takes and complete improvisation.
“We basically write a script to organize the ideas and get funding,” Duplass says. “When we get on set we don’t improvise structure or plot, but we just throw the words away. We try to get our actors to let go of the script and truly be in the moment. It’s fun and it’s very fulfilling.”
The brothers tend to take funny people and put them in dramatic roles, but this partly has to do with the actor’s normal-looking appearance.
“I don’ t know why, but Jonah, John, Ed and Jason all look like guys who grew up on the same street with us — they feel like us,” Duplass says.
All of these techniques allow the brothers to achieve their goal of authenticity. Duplass says he wants the characters and the movie to look and feel real. Part of that includes throwing curve balls at the actors.
“We empower them to become their characters and do what they have to do,” Duplass says. “It’s very artistic and in the moment, but it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable because you don’t have the answer. But it works in our type of film making because our characters don’t have the answer either.”