Jeff Who Lives At Home isn't a film for everyone. In fact, it may not even be a film for a good majority of America, but there are going to be an abundance of people who really love the film for its intelligence, quirky style and the admirably relentless artistic integrity of the Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair, Cyrus), who wrote and directed the film with enough mass appeal that it deserved a wider distribution but also enough of a "small film" sensibility that fans of their earlier work will also likely remain quite happy.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is a good-hearted 30-year-old stoner who still lives at home with his mother (Susan Sarandon), repeatedly watches the film Signs and has this nearly constant belief that everything and everyone around him is a sign of our inter-connectedness.
What feels like a casual, easygoing comedy is actually much, much more. The Duplass Brothers brought mumblecore to the masses with the underrated Cyrus, the film that convinced those of us who saw it that Jonah Hill could act even before he picked up an Oscar nomination for last year's Moneyball. Ed Helms showed a similar ability in another underrated comic gem, Cedar Rapids, and Helms is again terrific as Jeff's far more materialistic brother. Jeff Who Lives At Home is probably best described as a distant cousin to Paul Rudd's Our Idiot Brother, another underrated flick from last year about a family misfit who seemed to be the odd one out until everyone around him started to figure out that, just perhaps, he had more going on than anyone. This film doesn't follow that theme quite, but it's not too far removed as Jeff is deemed by his worried mother and brother to be an aimless wanderer without direction.
The truth is that Jeff does have direction, or maybe it's directions. But, when a series of detours takes him down a path that impacts even those around him, suddenly we the audience become aware that there's much going on inside Jeff Who Lives At Home than we really believed.
Segel is absolutely terrific here, perhaps serving up his best work yet. Segel is funny without being a caricature, sympathetic without ever becoming pathetic and sweet without becoming saccharine. Segel's is a tight rope performance and he manages to walk across the Niagara Falls without ever falling off. In addition to Helms's great work, Susan Sarandon serves up what may be her most resonant work in a few years. This is the kind of film for which Sarandon used to be known, and you can just almost sense her entire being light up at being a 60+ year-old actress with a chance to tackle such a terrific role. She makes the most if it, and we can only hope it leads to a career resurgence once again for the immensely gifted actress.
Judy Greer also turns in what may be a career best performance as Jeff's sister-in-law, who may or may not be having an affair but who is most definitely having difficulty dealing with her materialistic husband's obsession with owning a Porsche.
Jeff Who Lives At Home isn't a perfect film, not even for those of us who really enjoyed it. One can only wish that the Duplass Brothers would expand their package of camera tricks a bit and move past the occasionally gimmicky shot that, at times, can mute what would have been an emotionally satisfying moment. There may also be those who don't quite appreciate the film's ending (I did!), but it's hard not to admire the uniqueness of vision.
It's nearly impossible to think about Jeff Who Lives At Home going gangbusters at the box-office, but one can only hope the film finds its audience and the Duplass Brothers and Paramount Pictures get rewarded for allowing artistic integrity to ride in the front seat while appealing to the masses gets left in the trunk.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic