by Richard von Busack
If only M. Night Shymalan’s Signs had been profound instead of ridiculous, the movie Jeff Who Lives At Home argues, it wouldn’t be a shame to take it as gospel. Jeff (Jason Segel), a hulking Baton Rouge child-man, is aptly described by his brother (Ed Helms) as “a Sasquatch.” He’s entombed with his bong in his mom’s laminated-wood paneled den.
Gnawing on Pop Tarts and staring off into space, Jeff is not completely inert: he’s waiting for a sign from God. An abusive wrong number on his telephone derails him from his day’s work: a mission to pick up some wood glue at the Home Depot.
Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) is at a crisis point in his marriage, thanks to his most recent offense, his unilateral decision to buy a Porsche. Such a bold, decisive action is bound to change their marriage for the better, he feels: “This is going to solve a lot of our problems.”
Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) thinks not, and heads out in her own car to meet with a certain someone named Steve (Steve Zissis) for a fancy lunch. Pat goes to Hooters’ to nurse his injured manhood.
That’s where Jeff—one of those aggravating but somehow sweet people who believes there are no metaphysical accidents—runs right into his brother. Trying to separate, the brothers keep running into each other: they corner the seemingly unfaithful Linda at a room at the Hampton Inn.
This rising bromance is countered with the office workday of the mom of the two brothers, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Sharon is getting paper airplanes over the top of her cubicle, and playful but anonymous emails.
Sharon seeks the council of a co-worker (Rae Dawn Chong) on what to do about the mystery man seeking her. These sections turn out more interesting than the reluctant (and literal) bromance. Sarandon, who looks about fifteen years younger than whatever it says on her driver’s license, is devoid of coquetry, and her loneliness is affecting.
Following up Cyrus with another story of a stay-homer, the Duplass brothers shoot with small camera, zooming in relentlessly on subjects they already have in focus. The camera brings you up mercilessly close to Sarandon’s unravaged face, which may be why it’s worth commenting on her agelessness in the first place.
Like a few filmmakers who started off with small cameras, the Duplasses don’t seem to be composing for the large screen.
Jeff Who Lives At Home comes to a conclusion on the Ponchartrain Causeway. Here’s a missed chance to make some use of the space—the skies that are so much of the drama of the Louisiana landscapes, to show something that goes beyond the more obvious attraction of shooting there: namely the tax benefits. It’s not unfair to ask for better clouds in a film about a cloud watcher.
Jeff Who Lives At Home has twin payoffs—an act of heroism, and a really good kiss. Sarandon is hitting the age where foxy rebellious grandma parts are waiting for her—she handled one such very well in The Lovely Bones—so the role gives her a chance to be a lover once more.
And the film is a ringing endorsement of the drifty life: in harsh times like these, our cinema needs more bums. Segel is inarguably cuddly and he brings in the low notes to this underwritten part of a simple, good person. His Jeff displays touches of anger that aren’t developed elsewhere: he’s the first to suggest kicking the wife-stealing Steve’s ass, for instance. There may be something of the wrath of the long-time shut-in hidden inside him. Jeff Who Lives At Home doesn’t have bad values, but the deliberate aimlessness and slovenliness of the Duplass brothers’ style of filmmaking starts to grate a bit when it’s blown up to super-cinema size.