BLOGS

Comedy Double Bill: Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Casa de mi Padre

If you're in the mood for a few good laughs before the serious-as-a-heart-attack dystopian action movie The Hunger Games drops next Friday, 21 Jump Street is your best option. But if the idea of a remake of an old '80s TV series -- even one that features the young year's strangest and strongest comedy duo, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum -- makes you reflexively cringe, there are two other options this weekend: a pair of smaller comedies with some big-name talent involved. Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon headline the purposefully meandering stoner flick Jeff, Who Lives at Home, while Will Ferrell ventures south of the border for the telenovela spoof Casa de mi Padre. Buyer beware, though: neither movie is as consistently amusing or as pleasantly satisfying as Jump Street. We know -- we're surprised too.

Let's start with Jeff, the latest mini-major movie from the Duplass brothers Mark and Jay, who have long since graduated from their beginnings as scrappy mumblecore auteurs, but still try to bring some of that aesthetic to their newer, (relatively) pricier, star-powered projects. The sour 2010 comedy Cyrus, which starred Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, was their first venture into this realm and it proved to be something of a misfire, as the cast's awkward semi-improvised performances -- particularly Hill's grating presence as an overgrown mama's boy -- made watching the movie a chore. Segel's a far more affable presence than Hill and, as a result, Jeff, Who Lives At Home is an all-around more pleasant experience than Cyrus, although the Duplass siblings still push the material into darker territory on occasion. The movie opens with our titular hero -- a prodigious pot smoker and a walking, talking poster child for arrested development who still lives in the basement of his childhood home -- receiving a phone call that will change the course of his day. Okay, so the phone call was actually just a wrong number. That doesn't matter to Jeff -- as a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, he knows that a random event like a wrong number could actually be a... well, a sign that there's something he needs to do. So he ventures out of his basement into the big wide world, ostensibly to run an errand for his mom Sharon (Sarandon), but really with the intention of going wherever the signs lead him.

An entire movie could be made of Segel wandering around the streets of Baton Rouge on his pot-laced quest to find meaning in randomness, getting in and out of various scrapes. (In fact, an entire movie already has been made about in that vein: Gregg Araki's sorely overlooked 2007 farce, Smiley Face.) But the filmmakers weave two other storylines into this narrative as well, the first of which involves his older brother Pat (Helms), the supposed Gallant to Jeff's Goofus. Unlike his sibling, Pat has moved firmly into adulthood, acquiring a job, a wife Linda (Judy Greer) and his own place to live. But all this responsible living is starting to wear on him; deep down, Pat longs to do something deeply irresponsible... like purchasing a Porsche when he and his spouse are supposed to be saving for a house. That sense of frustration with his lot in life has also made him a bit of an asshole to his family, his co-workers and, above all, Linda, who is seriously considering pursuing an affair with another man. Usually cast to type as an Andy Bernard-ish wide-eyed innocent, Helms delivers the movie's most interesting and nuanced comic performance, unafraid to play Pat as genuinely unlikable. The last (and weakest) story thread finds the brothers' widowed mom Sharon (Sarandon) enduring a frustrating day at work that's only improved by her meeting a potential new love interest over IM. Sarandon is quite funny in the role, but where Jeff and Pat drop in and out of each other's lives over the course of the movie, Sharon is kept in her own little universe for far too long, which makes her scenes feel superfluous to the proceedings.

The first half of Jeff possesses a shaggy-dog charm that's hard to resist, as well as a compellingly conflicted character in the form of Pat who is clearly laying the seeds for his own destruction. Midway through though, the Duplass's begin to lose their nerve and make a hard left turn away from the darker road Jeff and Pat seem to be traveling down, a road where a coincidence is just a coincidence. Instead, just as in Signs, all off the supposedly random events that befall the brothers do indeed prove to have a grander meaning. One could potentially argue that the filmmakers are sending up Signs, but the film's final scenes feel too earnest and nakedly sentimental to register as satire. If you're the kind of person who lives by the belief that everything does indeed happen for a reason, then Jeff, Who Lives at Home will warm your heart by reinforcing that worldview. Me, I was just left rolling my eyes.

I had a similar reaction -- for different reasons -- to Casa de mi Padre, which seems to exist solely because Will Ferrell watched a double-bill of Grindhouse and Three Amigos one night and woke up saying, "I can do better than that." In his first Spanish-language performance (and he claims he really did learn Spanish for the role, although I suspect some post-production dubbing may have gone on), Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, the black sheep son of a prominent Mexican rancher who has since fallen on hard times. To try and restore the family name, Armando's brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns to his ancestral home, having struck it rich in an unspecified business that turns out to be -- what else? -- drugs. Raul brings back with him a fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and a nemesis, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), the area's chief drug kingpin. Also in the mix is a corrupt police captain (Manuel Urrego), a hard-ass American DEA agent (Nick Offerman, completely wasted in this role) and a mythical white mountain lion who, in the movie's only laugh-out-loud funny moment, coaxes a wounded Armando back to health through a bizarre montage that's like a comic version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's notorious boat trip.

Like Grindhouse, Casa de mi Padre spends an awful lot of time goofing on the limitations of low-budget filmmaking as well as telenovela clichés. The sets and backgrounds deliberately look fake, the blocking and camera placement is pure soap opera and director Matt Piedmont even pulls the same "Missing Reel" gag that Robert Rodriguez did in his Grindhouse chapter, Planet Terror. While not all of these meta gags land, they're a lot more amusing than anything else happening onscreen. The best spoofs can certainly play around with cinematic and genre conventions, but they always have strong, funny characters at their center -- think Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, Shaun in Shaun of the Dead and even Anna Faris in Scary Movie (the first one anyway). Usually Ferrell understands this; after all, we don't endlessly re-watch Anchorman or Talladega Nights for their plots, god knows. But none of the characters in Casa de mi Padre have any comic substance to them, not even Armando. Maybe it's the language barrier, but Ferrell's mind seems elsewhere for the duration of the movie's slender, but still overlong 84-minute runtime. Maybe he's trying to remember whether he knows anybody that has the Duplass's phone number. After the bust that is Casa de mi Padre, even a minor comedy like Jeff, Who Lives at Home is probably starting to look like a really good career move right now.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

6 ENTRIES

February 2014

7 ENTRIES

January 2014

6 ENTRIES

December 2013

12 ENTRIES

November 2013

14 ENTRIES

October 2013

12 ENTRIES

September 2013

8 ENTRIES

August 2013

9 ENTRIES

July 2013

11 ENTRIES

June 2013

12 ENTRIES

May 2013

9 ENTRIES

April 2013

8 ENTRIES

March 2013

16 ENTRIES

February 2013

8 ENTRIES

January 2013

6 ENTRIES

December 2012

11 ENTRIES

November 2012

12 ENTRIES

October 2012

13 ENTRIES

September 2012

11 ENTRIES

August 2012

17 ENTRIES

July 2012

8 ENTRIES

June 2012

13 ENTRIES

May 2012

12 ENTRIES

April 2012

14 ENTRIES

March 2012

20 ENTRIES

February 2012

9 ENTRIES

January 2012

7 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP