I’m not sure how to describe “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” It’s sort of a comedy, kind of a drama and a bit of a character study and yet it isn’t completely any of those things. The directing duo, the Duplass Brothers, best known for the indie films, have mixed and matched tones and come up with something that is likeable despite the strange premise and characters.
Thirty-something unemployed man-child Jeff (Jason Segel) still lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. His worldview is formed by the enormous amount of drugs he smokes and the M. Night Shyamalan movie “Signs.” To him nothing is random. Everything is a sign. When his mom sends him on an errand a series of “omens” find him chasing after a stranger named Kevin and becoming involved in his break up of his brother’s (Ed Helms) marriage.
“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” exists at the intersection where indie and mainstream film meet, nicely blending the rough-and-ready sensibility of the directors with the appeal of the a-list-y cast. It is deeply connected to its characters and the relationships that bind them and for me that bought a great deal of good will.
I could have done without the quick zoom the Duplass Brothers use to accentuate their visual punch lines, and the soundtrack was a bit twee for my taste, but the film’s strengths overshadow the precious elements.
While the characters may be edgy and / or unlikeable—except for Susan Sarandon’s world-weary single mom and her free spirited co-worker played by Rae Dawn Chong—or hard to relate to—like the title character—because there’s no cynicism here they become real people that you care about. Quite a feat in 85 minutes.
The cast is uniformly strong, but this is Segal’s movie. What a balancing act of a career e has. He’s a mainstream sitcom star, a stoner star, a friend of Muppets and has appeared full frontal on the big screen. He’s fearless, and here he is unafraid to underplay a character who might have been given a more grandiose treatment by another actor.
He has all the movie’s funniest l;ines, and delivers them well, but when he says to his brother, “You and mom will never understand me, and you’re all I have left,” in one line, which might have been a throw away in any other movie, he reveals a sad, broken side.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” won’t be for everyone. Some will find its unusual tone hard to embrace, but for those willing to connect with the material there is much to enjoy here.