Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass have made smart, funny independent movies like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” and they’ve ventured into the realm of studio-backed movies like “Cyrus” and their latest, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”
What’s the major difference between the Duplass brothers’ indie films and a “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”? In “Jeff,” they get to destroy a Porsche — a car whose sticker price is possibly bigger than the entire budget of one of their earlier films. Otherwise, “Jeff” shares the same laid-back sensibilities of the Duplasses’ earlier films — with gently hilarious results.
Jeff (played by Jason Segel) does indeed live at home, specifically in the basement of the house in which his mother (Susan Sarandon) raised him and his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms). Jeff doesn’t just live at home, but tends not to leave it. Mostly he sits around the basement, watching TV and smoking pot.
One day, Mom asks him to do a chore: Take the bus to Home Depot, buy some wood glue, come home and fix the broken shutter on a kitchen cabinet. But for Jeff, who seeks the cosmic connections in the universe, even a simple assignment like that takes on new complications. After fielding a wrong-number call from someone asking for Kevin, Jeff decides that some Kevin somewhere holds the key to his future. On the bus to Home Depot, he sees a guy named Kevin (Evan Ross) and follows him into a rough part of town. This starts a daisy chain of events that, without spoiling the details for you, do indeed change Jeff’s life.
Pat becomes a player in Jeff’s day, too. After an argument with his wife, Linda (the always-wonderful Judy Greer), over his reckless purchase of the aforementioned Porsche, Pat sees Jeff walking along the railroad tracks. Pat gives Jeff a ride, which leads to a car accident, which is when Jeff sees Linda in a car with another man. And then …
Mom gets her own subplot as she becomes engaged in an online chat with a “secret admirer” in her office. Soon Mom’s story also dovetails into Jeff’s quest.
The Duplasses’ script has its characters, particularly Jeff, talk a lot about “fate” and “destiny,” which is always a red flag in movies. There are no coincidences in movie scripts, because the screenwriter is God of the world he or she has created and can make things happen according to whim. That said, the Duplass brothers (who share writing and directing duties on their films) do a great job here of making Jeff’s search for his “destiny” feel like a natural part of his easygoing (and possibly marijuana-influenced) view of the cosmos.
The brothers also manage, as they did in “Cyrus,” to find movie stars who fit in organically with their semi-improvised indie style. Segel and Helms create great comic sparks as the slacker Jeff and the obnoxious Pat. Greer steals the show (as she did in “The Descendants”) as the long-suffering wife. Sarandon is delightful as a woman contemplating a midlife boost, and nicely matched by Rae Dawn Chong as her gal-pal co-worker.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” goes in some strange directions — but once it gets to its destination, all the curves and odd turns make perfect sense. It’s the sort of movie that makes you believe that destiny — even the contrived destiny of a screenwriter’s imagination — is real.
‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’
A slacker seeks his destiny, and finds an adventure with his obnoxious brother, in this laid-back comedy.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for language including sexual references and some drug use.
Running time • 83 minutes.