Daily reviews of some of the best and worst movies to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Stars: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
Jeff Who Lives at Home marks the second Hollywood outing for sibling mumblecore directors Jay and Mark Duplass, following their sadly underrated Cyrus. Once again they’ve managed to translate their small and delicate brand of melancholic character comedy to a larger scale, bringing name actors into the equation without sacrificing their wonderfully cringe-inducing brand of awkward comedy.
Jason Segal stars as Jeff, a 30-year-old man who, well, still lives at home. His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) has left the nest, but remains a bit of a manchild himself. He has a job in the paint game and is married (to the dependably solid Judy Greer), but also remains immature enough to hold business meetings at Hooters and buy a Porsche without telling his wife despite their plans to finally buy a house.
Then there is the boys’ mother (Susan Sarandon) who may have coddled them too much growing up, and now finds herself still playing single mother to Jeff in his 30s while still working. All she wants is for her overgrown stoner boy to fix a broken shutter for her birthday, but Jeff has other plans.
The movie opens with Jeff delivering a hilarious monologue (on the toilet) about how much the movie Signs means to him, because of how it shows the ways small decisions and fate lead to, in his words, “a perfect moment.” He rather hilariously dedicates his life to that principle, following random signs and hoping it will all lead to his own moment.
When he starts his day with a bong hit and a wrong number asking for Kevin, he sets out to follow any Kevin he can in search of meaning, eventually discovering his sister-in-law’s infidelity along the way. It’s a hilarious, embarrassing adventure that eventually ties together every member of the family. It all builds to a climax that wouldn’t be out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan movie and it’s right there on the finish line that the movie falls apart ever so slightly.
The Duplass brothers' movies walk a very delicate line between comedy and drama. The first scene of their debut The Puffy Chair — acting as a mission statement of sorts — is an awkwardly funny dinner between a couple that suddenly becomes a painful fight without warning.
Jeff Who Lives at Home is probably their funniest film and therein lies the problem with the ending. The movie plays almost as straight comedy for the first hour or so, before somewhat clumsily turning into an almost spiritual drama in the closing moments. The Duplass Bros. make it clear that’s where they are heading from the Signs monologue, but I’m not sure that they entirely own it.
The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Segel who has never had a role this multi-dimensional before, and Sarandon's role is equally substantial. Inconsistencies aside, the filmmaking is sound. It was always a bit of a long shot that the Duplasses would ever find themselves moving from DV features to Hollywood, but they’ve made the transition remarkably well. Now let’s just hope that Jeff Who Lives at Home is successful enough for them to make another one.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson
Last year director Ben Wheatley made a rather quiet debut with his micro-budget film Down Terrace. The film was an unpredictable cocktail of Mike Leigh-style, lower class domestic dramedy, and a small-scale gangster movie. His follow-up Kill List is an even less predictable combination of both those previous elements, with a little Satanic horror thrown in for good measure.
The film opens as a domestic drama, with a husband and wife feuding about their financial woes over his eight-month unemployment. He agrees to take a job with a friend and it turns out he’s a hit man and a rather psychotic one at that. The new mission ends up being more than he bargained for when his targets end up being part of a Satantic cult, and he may even be the victim of their plot, not their weapon. It’s a completely unpredictable movie that shifts genres every 20 minutes or so and uses the familiarity of genre tropes to lead the audience down an unexpected path, peaking with a devastating conclusion.
It’s kind of unfair to discuss the plot any further given that its many twists and surprises are the joy of the movie. But rest assured that this is a deeply strange tale, designed to shock and burrow its way into your brain so that you end up more disturbed by the movie when thinking about it days later than you were watching it.
Ben Wheatley seemed like a director to watch after his debut and this sophomore effort cements his status as a major budding talent. If you don’t mind being led down false paths and sent out of the theater shaking, Kill List is a film you simply have to see as soon as possible. It already feels like a minor cult classic and it hasn’t even been released yet.