By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Now that’s an inspired movie title. Even though it tells you only the barest of essentials about this unusual film.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a breezy, poignant, charming, and decidedly offbeat comedic fable about a day in the life — in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — of a dysfunctional family of three, two brothers and a mother, each slightly damaged in a different way.
Jobless Jeff, played by Jason Segel, is the 30-year-old title character, an overweight muppet of a man still living in his mother’s basement.
Obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs but optimistic in his firm belief that everything, absolutely everything, is somehow connected as part of the grand design, he sits at home smoking pot, watching the movie over and over again, indulging his relentless search for meaning and magic by reading into the science fiction thriller for clues (disguised as coincidences) that the universe might be sending him that he can then pursue to their natural conclusion.
Pat, played by Ed Helms, is his older brother, a self-absorbed paint salesman struggling with a failed marriage. He has bought a Porsche that he cannot afford, and his wife, played by Judy Greer, cannot understand why, and thus strongly disapproves.
And now she appears to be cheating on him, which the brothers discover when they see her out and about with another guy.
Susan Sarandon (right) plays Sharon, the brothers’ widowed mother. Lonely but productive, she works in an office along with co-worker Rae Dawn Chong (far right) and worries exasperatedly about her boys.
She’s also got a secret admirer who’s been sending her romantic instant messages that she receives constantly in her cubicle, and she happily if warily conducts a flirtation with her unknown suitor.
The plot, such as it is, is triggered by a request from Jeff’s mom — who on this day is sad to admit that she’s celebrating her birthday alone — that he run a simple errand for her.
Thus begins an uncharateristically adventure-filled day in which Jeff coincidentally (?) runs into his brother and they coincidentally (?) notice Linda driving with another man.
Coincidences? Hey, there are no coincidences — right?
The writers and directors are brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, whose intriguing, independent “mumblecore” productions (The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus) specialize in mild discomfort and low-keyed tension in offbeat relationship comedies.
In the character-driven Jeff, Who Lives at Home screenplay, they develop several plot threads that manage to come together, almost magically, in the third act, in a vivid demonstration of how to end a movie creatively, organically, and effectively.
What they’re going for throughout are not belly laughs so much as hearty chuckles and broad smiles of recognition. And they get more than their share in this short and sweet serenade.
Segel’s likably understated performance — in his most serious and meaty role to date — as the titular man-child anchors this oddly touching little triple-character study, which does a bit of unashamed heartstring tugging in the late going.
And Helms matches him all the way through. Together, they paint an intriguing portrait of the unbreakable bond between seemingly very different brothers.
As for Sarandon, she’s her usual radiant and dependably able self as the weary, devoted mom.
So we’ll empty the nest of 3 stars out of 4 for this easygoing, whimsical, open-hearted, and pleasant coming-of-age dramedy. At Jeff, Who Lives at Home, you’ll laugh and cry, and then go home…happy.