Jeff, Who Lives at Home was filmed in Mark and Jay Duplass' native New Orleans and its surrounding areas, but they mostly abstain from framing more scenic places and promenades, favoring instead the lusterless eyesores of contemporary American life: a chain motel, a Hooters bar, a chain-linked basketball court, the breakfast table of a limply appointed apartment. And then there is the wood-paneled basement where Jeff (Segel) is more or less squatting in the house of his mother (Sarandon), the home he grew up in and has returned to in a palpable funk.
Jeff spends his days smoking pot and pondering the big questions – one such inquiry into the nature of interconnectedness he wrestles with on the toilet – and at first it's hard to parse how seriously the Duplass brothers mean for us to take this Jeff, foggy with weed and existentially slumped, or at least stumped. Very seriously, it turns out: The film crescendoes into an if/dog/rabbitlike spiritual quest that culminates in a moment of maybe divine intervention.
Segel brings a sweet sincerity to Jeff's soulful fumblings. But Helms as his tone-deaf brother, Pat, is so boorish, so goateed, it's an uncomfortable squirm awaiting his foregone redemption. Sarandon's office-drone mom, Sharon, suffers from a subplot that feels both disconnected and unlikely. (I walked away from the film feeling there was a kind of cruelty to the characterization of Sharon – more pathetic than compassionate – but I wonder if that was a case of miscasting; an actress less historically ballsy might have better served the story of Sharon's baby steps toward an office romance.) The Duplass brothers have an exceptional eye for microexpressions (yes, they're still zoom-happy), and there's something to be admired in this new interest in a macro lens on the universe's workings. If only it didn't take wading through so much drear to get to that divine.
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