Jason Segal stars as Jeff, a stoned, open-minded slacker who sees patterns in his life that he interprets as the universe talking to him. One morning, he believes a wrong number from someone asking for “Kevin” is a sign that he needs to leave his house and search for the mystical answers that “Kevin” may have. His journey intersects with his brother (played by Ed Helms) who is on his own mission of spying on his wife (Judy Greer), who he believes is being unfaithful.
Wonderful new comedy from the Duplass brothers, whose Cyrus was my favorite film of the 2010 Maui Film Festival. Their latest isn’t a total triumph on the scale of Cyrus but is an unpredictable and oddly touching character piece with bust-a-gut laughs.
Segal, in a Muppet-less performance, isn’t stretching as much as he’s playing to his strengths as a lovable oaf. The same goes for Helms, still a scream when his overly cocky characters are having a slow burn and are this-close to a complete breakdown. Greer is first-rate in a heartfelt, mostly serious turn and Rae Dawn Chong, little seen since the 1990s, is excellent in a welcome return to the screen in a pivotal supporting turn.
Best of all is Susan Sarandon, who elevates her usual dotty mother role into a sublime portrait of middle-aged loneliness. Her character (Jeff’s mother) rediscovers love when a secret admirer starts leaving her notes in her cubicle at work; watch Sarandon’s eyes when she first learns someone close to her is harboring a secret crush. Sarandon is great here, even when the identity of her admirer is obvious from the start.
For a movie so heavily improvised (a trademark of the brothers Duplass), the story feels more like a formula Hollywood comedy than an “edgy” independent film. This is more I Love You, Man than Cyrus but when the laughs are this big, who cares if the movie feels safe?
The big climax is especially contrived but works because it’s well staged and genuinely moving, you won’t realize until later how far-fetched it is. Unlike many crude, gross-out farces, this one piles on the laughs and grows increasingly absurd from scene to scene but, like Jeff, is genuinely sweet and wants you to walk away happy.
Jeff’s concept of how life works is relatable in some ways and absurd in others. The notion of leaving your house and finding a purpose for your day is simple, childlike and entirely effective, especially if you spend most days on your couch. I used to take the bus everywhere and believed in the power of Synchronicity, in which I’d know my day was going well if I could move from Point A to Point B without complication; when I’d miss my bus, arrive late to work and go home feeling spent, I suspected that my Synchronicity with life was off. Silly, I know, but when missing one thing in your day results in a domino effect, it made me kind of wonder…
The gorgeous music score establishes a mystical mood where Jeff’s zonked POV is either his self-induced madness or something more real. As a meeting of cold skepticism and open-mindedness to one’s spiritual outlook on life, audiences will side with Helms as Jeff’s brother struggles to dismiss then possibly accept Jeff’s stoner spiritualism. As for the movie itself, it made a believer out of me: you’ll walk away smiling… and keep your eye out for a sign from Kevin.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
★ ★ ★
Rated R/83 Min.