On Movies: For the Duplasses, 'Jeff' is another 'plus-one'

Filmmakers Mark (left) and Jay Duplass on the set of their latest production, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Paramount Pictures
Filmmakers Mark (left) and Jay Duplass on the set of their latest production, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Paramount Pictures (Filmmakers Mark (left) and Jay Duplass)
Posted: March 18, 2012

In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the latest low-key number from filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass, Jason Segel plays a neo-philosopher type who wanders around his mother's house in a state of perpetual oscillation - stoned and sedentary.

He's a 30-year-old who doesn't have a job and doesn't have a reason to get dressed, but he's not a loser, really. The Duplasses love this guy, and their empathy for the lumbering layabout shows.

"He's simultaneously tragic and sad and funny and hilarious," says Mark Duplass, who was in town last fall premiering his offbeat character study at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Jeff, Who Lives at Home opened Friday in area theaters. "Jason's face literally goes from the Blake Edwards to the Greek tragedy," Duplass says.

Set in Baton Rouge, La. (where the Duplasses grew up), the film follows Segel's Jeff as he embarks on a modest mission - to buy wood glue at a hardware store - and ends up affecting the lives of a bunch of people, family and strangers. Ed Helms plays Jeff's brother, Susan Sarandon their mother, and Judy Greer and Rae Dawn Chong put in very nice turns.

For folks who have followed the Duplasses from their micro-budgeted, mumblecore feature debut, The Puffy Chair, through their talky ensemble horror pic, Baghead, to the Jonah Hill-John C. Reilly-Marisa Tomei movie Cyrus, their new one feels like a natural progression. It's rooted in similar sensibilities, but different somehow.

"There's a plus-one involved in every movie we have made," Duplass says. "It's conscious now, but I don't think it was at the outset. We've added something with each film, but tried to maintain a very consistent style.

"Puffy Chair was just raw naturalism and a road-trip movie. And then Baghead was like, 'Ooh, let's see if we can do it in a genre movie - let's try to take that naturalism into horror.' And then Cyrus was obviously adding a studio thing, and movie stars.

"And then with Jeff, actually it has a couple of different things to it. There's a little bit more magic and poetry . . . than we have ever done before, we've always just basically said we just want this thing to feel as real and raw as possible.

"But this movie, on some level, almost has an element of magical realism to it. . . . and then logistically, the movie had some bigger plot points to shoot that required a new skill set from us that was scary as hell."

Without spoiling anything, suffice to say that Jeff, Who Lives at Home has a pretty major action sequence in it, one that required stunts, and cars, and even some running.

"It seems to be a nice model for us right now," Duplass says about the "plus-one" approach he and his brother take. "Stick to what you know, but give yourself one or two growth points, so it stays fresh for you - and the audience doesn't get sick of what you're doing."

Look for The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, about two brothers who compete in their own personal 25-event Olympics, later in 2012.

"We shot it two years ago, but had to put it aside for Cyrus and everything," Duplass says. "We were writing a bunch of different things, and we managed to make five movies in the last five years because we had all these scripts in the drawer.

"But the drawer is empty now."

Jennifer Westfeldt has "Friends With Kids." If the cast of Friends With Kids, playing now at the Ritz Five and Rave Motion Pictures at the Ritz Center/ NJ, has a certain deja vu-ness about it, maybe it's because you've seen a whole bunch of the actors in it in a little 2011 release called Bridesmaids: Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig - all in the breakout hit comedy, and all in Friends With Kids, too.

Not that any of that was planned.

"The way the cast came together was actually very organic," explains Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote Friends With Kids, put herself in the picture as one of the leads, and ended up making her directorial debut on the indie, too.

"Our movie wrapped several months before Bridesmaids came out, and the amazing success they've had, we never could have known. And actually Kristen was attached to our film before they even shot their film."

In Friend With Kids, Westfeldt plays a single woman who decides she wants to have a child - and talks her platonic best friend, played by Adam Scott, into being the father, and sharing custody once the baby is born.

Ironically, their nontraditional parenting arrangement seems to be working out a whole lot better than the child-rearing and marital experiences of their close group of pals.

That is, it's working out until Scott's character runs into a smart and sexy dancer, played by Megan Fox, and Westfeldt's runs into an impossibly perfect, sensitive, and attentive gent, played by Edward Burns.

"It's only recently that I realized, retroactively, that I guess I've written this unintentional trilogy," says Westfeldt, referring to Kissing Jessica Stein (2001 - about a woman, played by Westfeldt, who falls into a relationship with another woman), to Ira and Abby (2006 - about two strangers, one of them played by Westfeldt, who hastily wed), and now Friends With Kids.

"I guess they're my response to what I see around me," she says, "and these kind of life phases of dating and marriage and, now, kids.

"I'm interested in why we can't redefine the terms - if two people are willing and committed. That, I guess, is the thread through the three movies . . . . Questioning the status quo, trying to break the rules."

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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