While lots of major studios regularly bring their movies to TIFF, Paramount has taken a different approach with their two festival offerings, as they’re both movies with links to the Sundance Film Festival and produced by Steven Rales’ production company Indian Paintbrush.
A former Toronto native, Jason Reitman is a regular fixture at TIFF, but this time, he wasn’t there to show off his latest movie (Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody), as much as to offer support to other filmmakers. In this case, he co-produced the Duplass Brothers’ fourth film Jeff, Who Lives at Home , which moves them further into studio filmmaking. (“Jeff” isn’t being release until next March, so it’s somewhat of an odd choice for Paramount to premiere it at TIFF over Reitman’s new film.) Meanwhile, Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy was picked up at this year’s Sundance and is being released in October through the resuscitated Paramount Vantage imprint.
They are very different movies although they both come out from the same unscripted indie camp from which so much talent is being found.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (March 2, 2012)
Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Evan Ross
If Cyrus was the Duplass Brothers’ entry into the world of studio filmmaking then “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is their first full-on studio movie; ironically enough, it’s a stoner comedy… and one that doesn’t star Seth Rogen, though it does star Jason Segel who also comes out of the same Apatow camp.
Segel’s Jeff has a spiritual way of looking at life that mostly revolves around his appreciation for M. Night Shyamalan’s movie “Signs,” and the idea that everything is connected. At the same time, his well-to-do brother Pat (Ed Helms) has been having problems with his wife (Judy Greer) after his frivolous purchase of a Porsche. It’s obvious that both guys are going through a personal crisis, and they’re brought together when Jeff is sent on an errand by his mother (Susan Sarandon), who has been receiving attention from a secret admirer at work. Pat’s issues get more complicated when he spots his wife getting into a car with another man, so the brothers proceed to follow them around.
Although the title character does live in his mother’s basement, this one takes place mostly outside and in different locations, giving the Duplass Brothers a chance to explore the world and even introduce a bit of action. That doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily improved their production values and we still get the same jumpy camera movements and awkward zoom-ins as before, only the scale feels bigger due to being outside.
Even so, “Jeff” just doesn’t feel like one of the Duplass Brothers’ better-realized scripts, especially coming out right after “Cyrus,” because each of the storylines is almost simple to a fault. While one might think that a movie teaming Segel and Helms would be rife with laughs, especially given the Duplass’ proclivity for allowing improvisation, the results are relatively flat and unfunny and most of the real laughs come from the physical humor.
Oddly, the storyline with Sarandon ends up feeling more satisfying than what’s going on with the brothers, because once the movie transitions into drama going into the last act, neither Segel nor Helms are particularly convincing compared to Sarandon. Judy Greer also has some great moments where she tries to work things out with her husband, and it’s disappointing we don’t see more of her.
For all the talk about everything being connected, the best it can do in terms of bringing their mother into their story is having them all meet up in a bridge congested by traffic, which is about as bad as it comes because it’s the type of lazy storytelling we’ve come to expect from actual studio movies. This is where Jeff is finally able to fulfill his destiny but it’s not a particularly fulfilling way to end the movie. One can expect that Paramount can figure out some way of marketing “Jeff” to the masses, but there’s probably a good reason this one is coming out in early March.
Like Crazy (October 28)
Directed by Drake Doremus; Written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Starring Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Alex Kingston, Oliver Muirhead
Anyone who happened to see Drake Doremus’ Douchebag, a film clearly inspired by the early Duplass Brothers movie “The Puffy Chair,” may be shocked by the stark contrast his latest has despite remaining true to his indie roots.
It stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as Jacob and Anna, two young people who meet at school, but as their relationship blooms into love, it becomes obvious that when the semester is over, she is supposed to return to England. Instead, she decides to stay the summer, getting her into trouble with immigration for overstaying her visa making it impossible for her to return to the States. Jacob starts a furniture manufacturing business and hooks up with his pretty co-worker (played by no less than Jennifer Lawrence), but they continue to connect via the normal methods. He eventually breaks down and comes to visit Anna in London, and they do the most logical thing and get married, but suspicions and jealousy arise due to the amount of time that’s passed since they’ve been together.
It’s an amazing second film from Doremus, because it’s nothing at all like “Douchebag,” yet it remains very true to the use of improvised scenes to tell the story. Even so, it doesn’t feel like the typical “M*mblec*re” movie, feeling far more natural as it shows how a long distance relationship can be difficult even while the romantic bond between two individuals can be strong enough to overcome the hurdles that keep them apart.
What really drives the movie are the terrific performances by Yelchin, playing one of his most mature dramatic role to date, and relative newcomer Felicity Jones, both of whom truly make you believe in this couple’s relationship. The passage of time and the way Doremus chops up some of the longer scenes is one of the more intriguing aspects of the movie, because months might pass between one scene and the next. The fact that nearly five years passes from the time we meet them to the end is quite an impressive feat, especially for the make-up, hair and costume departments who are put through their paces in changing how these young actors look from one scene to the next.
It’s quite thrilling seeing their young love bloom and the playful nature of their relationships, but it does get fairly serious, not leaving a lot of room for levity other than the scenes with Anna’s parents, played by Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston, but their scenes feel just as natural as the ones with the leads.
Whether intended or not, Doremus makes an interesting statement about both the US and British immigration systems while proving that yeah, maybe even love has its impasses while trying to conquer all. The film also ends with one of those frustratingly ambiguous endings that seems to be in flavor these days.
“Like Crazy” is a refreshing look at love and how a long distance relationship can be handled in a way that doesn’t pander to the normal clichés found in cinematic love stories. It shows that Drake Doremus has arrived and he’s creating a new cinematic language that makes “Like Crazy” unlike any other movie you’re likely to see this year.
Look for more reviews and interviews from the Toronto International Film Festival over the next few days.