The Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark) employ a filmmaking style that is heavy on improvisation. Essentially what this means is their movies are really only as good as the actors they cast.
Fortunately for them (and us) their movie “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” features the gifted trio of Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon to help us navigate this strangely sublime and amusing tale.
Segel plays Jeff, a 30-year-old free spirit who has no job and spends his days smoking pot in his mother’s basement. The guy has roughly the same amount of ambition as shower mold. His aimlessness puts him at odds not only with his over-worked mom Sharon (Sarandon) but also his self-absorbed brother Pat (Helms playing a bit against type).
Jeff believes in an unseen cosmic order to the universe and when he receives a wrong-number phone call from someone looking for “Kevin,” he believes it is a clue to a greater destiny.
Sent out into the world on an errand for his mother, Jeff begins to follow what he perceives to be signs all around his hometown of Baton Rouge, La.
While on his quest, he crosses paths with Pat, who seems exasperated to even have anything to do with his brother; that is, until circumstance joins them together as they begin following Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer), in an attempt to save the couple’s rapidly deteriorating marriage. Across town, in what appears to be an unrelated storyline, Sharon finds her dull day as an office drone interrupted by overtures from a secret admirer.
While “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” features the fairly predictable story arc of a fractured family brought together by a series of odd occurrences, there are a lot of fun surprises along the way that help to liven up the proceedings.
The Duplass Brothers’ previous film, “Cyrus,” featured this same improvisational style, and while it certainly had its moments, it tended to meander a bit as the actors worked to flesh out their characters on the go.
“Jeff” is much more structured as the story is advanced by events as opposed to being prodded along by character development. Plus, at a lean 83 minutes, the movie stays light and jaunty as it’s easy to see how a longer stay could have made the plotline a tad overbearing.
But really, when you move beyond the cute conceit, the heart of the movie lies with the characters and their interactions with one another.
Sarandon is as dependable as ever as she mines a lifetime of frustration, regret, and vulnerability from her character’s relatively limited screen time.
Helms stretches himself the most in this film because he has made a career of playing naives and twits. But here as Pat, he pulls off portraying an obnoxious alpha-jerk who only softens thanks to Jeff’s relentless positivity.
Through it all, it is Segel who shines the most because Jeff seems simultaneously beaten down by life yet unwavering in his belief that the universe has a grand plan for his seemingly wasted existence.
It also doesn’t hurt that Segel and Helms both have impeccable comedic timing so that the movie, while not an out-and-out comedy, does provide several laughs as the brothers’ various misadventures become increasingly harrowing.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” doesn’t possess a ton of substance, but what it does have is the power to make you leave the theater with a smile on your face.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is rated R for language including sexual references and some drug use.