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“Jeff, Who Lives at Home”: New Movie, Familiar Theme

Boomerang kids are now a fixed part of the cultural landscape

Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a new movie from the brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (whose previous indie films you probably missed), is ostensibly about two brothers, a wife, a mom and her female co-worker, all of whom clash over their various approaches to life. The older women have all but given up hope of ever finding love again, the brother and his wife aren’t sure their marriage can be saved, and the title character, Jeff (played by Jason Segel), takes his cues in life from M. Night Shyamalan's supernatural thriller Signs.

I say ostensibly because, despite the yucks and moments of real pathos, the movie is also a commentary about America, circa now. It’s a pastiche of pop cultural … if not icons then certainly markers: wood-paneled basements, city buses passing endless strip malls, Hooters, Home Depot, telemarketers, office water coolers, pickup basketball games in the 'hood, motels manned by Drew Carey clones, even pop tarts.

What I found intriguing was that tossed onto the slag heap of things we accept to be true about life today is that 30-year-old men live in their mother's basements. It has become as routine and unlikely to raise an eyebrow as kids smoking a joint after a basketball game or commuters getting stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam.

This is hardly a new trend in film, which is one of our clearest mirrors of contemporary culture. Starting in the mid-2000s, a run of movies, including Wedding Crashers, Failure to Launch, Step Brothers and Post Grad, focused on grown kids returning home. And stars like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen have built entire careers on playing Peter Pan characters who either don't grow up or don't move out.

A new study from the Pew Research Center, released the same week as Jeff, provides data to support this trend. In a poll of 2,048 adults age 24 to 35, 3 of 10 have been in that situation in the past five years. To put that in perspective, in the 1980s, just 11 percent of 24- to 35-year-olds lived with their parents. I was just out of college then, and none of my friends or I would’ve dreamed of moving back home (save for the occasional nightmare). It was considered a fate worse than sharing a one-bedroom apartment with three people you didn’t know.

By 2000 the living-at-home statistic was 15.8 percent; by 2010 it had climbed to 21.6. Interestingly, the percentage is fairly even across gender, race and socio-economic lines, and no one thinks it’s likely to change anytime soon. The good news is that 96 percent of the young people who live at home report doing chores. The bad news: That home gym or office or hobby room you’ve been waiting years for may have to wait a little longer. And the "I don't know if it's good or bad" news is that you're likely to be seeing a whole lot more boomerang movies in the coming years.

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