Judy Greer, the actress who plays Pat’s wife and who has one of the trickiest scenes in the film—a fight born of a seething unhappiness—found the directors’ willingness to allow her to improvise generous. “It was one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve ever had—and yet they were extremely decisive. They gave you freedom to do what you wanted to do, but they were very clear. It didn’t feel like a free-for-all.” “They want to make a movie with cool, fun, nice, respectful people,” said Ms. Greer, “like when they made movies with their best friends. They liked that vibe.” Ms. Greer said that while shooting—during which she was commuting from Jeff’s New Orleans set to Hawaii, where she was filming The Descendants—she didn’t see the brothers much off-set. “Mark and Jay were in town with their families, staying at their parents’ house.”
“It’s common for siblings to have that weird, Siamese sense of humor, where they get stuff no one else gets,” said Mark. “You look at your parents as museum curators on some level. You are both taking in the same content, same movies, making the same family jokes—you’re curated in the same household.” The pair watched HBO as grade schoolers: “At 10 on any given Sunday morning, I’m 5 and Jay’s 8 and we’re watching Kramer vs. Kramer. We kind of for whatever reason watched these adult dramas that got us focused on relationships at an early age.”
And yet the pair’s films focus on brothers who are very different from one another—there’s at first little sense in Jeff Who Lives at Home that the loopy Jeff and the staid Pat can have come from the same curators. Said Mark: “It’s not easy to pinpoint [that] one of us is Jeff and one of us is Pat, but Jay and I have both of [the character’s] in our personalities. Our parents are very different people, and they created a personal conflict in me and Jay—in our DNA, there’s a guy like Pat who’s trying to put his head down and get through life without thinking about it too much, because if you think about it too much, you might just start crying, and there’s a guy like Jeff in us who wants to take things slow and believes there’s a greater spiritual force out there guiding us.
“But they’re both indicative of Jay’s and my questions about happiness, and how difficult it is to be happy. I don’t know why that is.”
It would seem as though the brothers have little to be unhappy about—they’ve made it to the big time without sacrificing their style. The studio backing has made them the world’s ambassadors of mumblecore. But they don’t believe in the genre’s existence.