In the 2010 drama “Cyrus,” writer/director team Jay and Mark Duplass created a uniquely odd familial situation. With three quirky main characters, that story was strangely endearing and oddly entertaining.
The Duplass brothers attempt to create another sympathetic family unit in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” but their latest falls flat without the depth of its predecessor.
Jason Segel plays Jeff, an overgrown slacker who spends his days in his mother’s basement, getting high and wasting his life. Mom (Susan Sarandon) doesn’t understand him, and his brother Pat (Ed Helms) doesn’t respect him. But like so many other cinematic drug users, Jeff serves as the free-spirited protagonist.
As the story begins, Jeff is talking about watching the film "Signs" the previous evening. The screening has led him to believe there are subtle signs in life that will guide him on the right path. It might be the drugs talking, but Jeff goes on a journey to find these signs and follow them wherever they lead.
Unlike most people, though, these signs dictate — from one moment to another — Jeff’s actions along the way.
But Jeff’s sign searching isn’t enough for his mother, who urges him to partake in another, more humble journey. She wants him to go to the store to buy wood glue to fix a door in their home. Along the way Jeff meets up with his brother and discovers that his sister-in-law (Judy Greer) may be having an affair.
The brothers investigate the possibility, chasing after Pat’s possibly duplicitous wife. In the meantime, the boys’ mother finds herself receiving online messages from a co-worker who admits to having a crush on her.
This simplistic plot could work, but it would need to introduce the characters at the beginning and cause the audience to care about their plight. In “Jeff,” few such moments occur. For instance, Pat’s relationship with his wife is defined in a short scene where Pat informs her that he bought a car — with money they don’t have -- and she gets upset.
From there, the audience is supposed to care about their relationship. I never did.
“Jeff” is hindered by its 83-minute running time. With many movies, length is an issue because storytellers sometimes don’t know where to stop. Here, the sense is the Duplass brothers didn’t know where to begin.
The film's disparate elements never feel like they belong together, and the emotions that carry this story through its second half often ring false. And that’s the problem with “Jeff.” The characters aren’t compelling and the story never feels true. And the preposterous ending where everything casually collides could leave viewers rolling their eyes.
“What if there’s no wrong numbers?” Jeff asks in the midst of the story.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” qualifies as neither a right number or a wrong one. It’s more of a dial tone than a complete call.