Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Ratings (out of five): ***

The Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay, are back with this sweet indie comedy that is surprisingly funny, if a bit less interesting substantively than Cyrus. While it suffers a bit from some contrived plottings, the cast and good humor shine through sweetly.

Jason Segel and Ed Helms, both doing some of their best work to date, play estranged brothers who reconnect to help each other out of sticky situations. Segel's Jeff is, as the title suggests, a slacking manchild who currently lives with his mother (Susan Sarandon, who seems to be having a second life lately supporting roles in indie dramedies -- and I'm not complaining). Segel looks especially schlubby here playing this sweet loser who helps old ladies on the bus but is hardly capable of taking care of himself… a 30 year old philosophical, naive whimsical oddball. Helms' older brother is more together but also more spiritually ground up, going through a mid-life crisis (with the requisite sports car he can't handle).

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As for Jeff, well, "He had a difficult adolescent period," his beleaguered mom says in his defense.

The film takes place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but the Duplass bros do a nice job capturing the disconnected office park-chain motel-chain restaurant-drab home feel (which we saw in Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids as well) that fits a lot of sprawling American metro areas these days.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home does have some of that indie-quirk (no, I won't say the dreaded word that rhymes with Dumbledore), the self-consciously jittery faux-immediate camera work and zip-zooms the Duplass brothers can't seem to shake away, but it's edgy enough, real enough, to work.

The story has a little Daytrippers vibe (tracking down possibly adulterous partner with estranged family member) with even a sitcom farce level to it, but, it goes its own way, thankfully.

A side plot with mom Susan Sarandon trying to track down an anonymous admirer seemed at first disconnected from the main thread but it ultimately takes on a certain poignancy, thanks in part to the actors involved--it's good to see Rae Dawn Chong again.

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I don't completely buy the series of happy endings, but admit to enjoying them more than I would a just as predictable unhappy ending. Like the rest of the film the ending is ultimately sweet where it could go sour. Jeff's insensitive douchebag brother does too much of a 180, but Helms is so winning in the role and so convincing in revealing the sensitive soul inside -- both with his sad dog facial expressions and angry-sad tantrums.

In short, not perfect, but winning.

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