JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (Dirs. Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass, 2011)
This is a day in the life of 2 brothers: one’s a slacker, the other a jerk. Jason Segel, in the title role, is the slacker - a jobless 30-year-old pot-smoking lug whose life philosophy is based on the movie SIGNS. That’s right, M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS.
The jerk is a goateed Ed Helms as the older brother, a paint-store salesman whose marriage to Judy Greer (last seen in “The Descendants”) may be in trouble.
Susan Sarandon plays their widowed mother who gets Segel’s day going when she calls home from her cubicle in an unspecified office to ask him to get some wood glue.
Actually it’s a phone call Segel got earlier that really sets the day in motion - a wrong number asking for somebody named Kevin. “What if there is no wrong numbers?” Segel speculates, “What if it’s always the right number?”
So Segel leaves his Baton Rouge, Louisiana (the filmmakers' home town) basement dwelling to go get wood glue, but he gets caught up in a seemingly random series of events, most of which are triggered by the name Kevin coincidentally popping up at odd times. “There are no coincidences” I’m sure Segel’s Jeff would say.
While at a business meeting (or so he says) at Hooters, Helms happens to see Segel walking by. Sarandon had phoned Helms earlier asking him to help get his brother moving so, of course, Segel sees this as another sign. Their destinies take a turn when the brothers happen upon seeing Helm’s wife Greer out with another man (Steve Zissus).
They follow and spy on Greer and Zissus (Helms is either too scared or stupid to confront them), ending up at a hotel (after Segel gets diverted by another Kevin sign). This is where the film most successfully balances humor with heartfelt drama. We can see why Greer would cheat on the thickheaded Helms, and we feel Segel’s compassion for his brother’s predicament, as airheaded as it is.
The characters are better drawn and play off each other more believably than in the Duplass brother’s previous films (THE PUFFY CHAIR, BAGHEAD, CYRUS), and the film certainly feels sincere without any cynical snarkiness. Just like Jeff.
I was less annoyed by the brothers’ shaki-cam framing too.
A subplot involving Sarandon and co-worker Rae Dawn Chong trying to figure out who a secret admirer at work is gets a bit cutesy, but it doesn’t detract from the overall charm and likability of this simple story.
Segel’s Jeff loves the film SIGNS because “everything comes together in one perfect moment.”
The Duplass brothers haven’t pulled off perfection here, but this sure is a terrifically unpretentious attempt.
And it’s way better than SIGNS.