*Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R)
Kimball's Peak Three
The title character of Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn't seem to mind that he lives at home. Thirty years old and jobless, Jeff wakes up in the morning and dictates notes to himself into a recorder while he's in the john. They are notes about the movie Signs; they are notes about cosmic signs.
Jeff, you see, believes not in happenstance, but in destiny. And he's sure, sitting around his mother's basement in sweats he probably hasn't changed out of in days, that his is going to be great.
Jason Segel is perfectly rumpled as Jeff, an oversized adolescent somehow both huge and gangly who gets annoyed when Mom (Susan Sarandon) calls to remind him to fix the blinds — God Mom, I'll get to it all right?! — because at the moment he's busy trying to rearrange the letters in "Kevin," whom a wrong caller asked for this morning. ("Knive" is one possible anagram, but Jeff wisely dismisses it.)
Out of possibilities, Jeff takes the bus money his mother left him to go to Home Depot, only he doesn't quite make it. There's a kid on the bus with "Kevin" on his jersey, so he follows him. Later, a candy-delivery truck is emblazoned with "Kevin," so he follows that, too. And so on, until he finally accepts where he's meant to be and what he's meant to be doing. And that's not fixing the blinds.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the furthest that writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) have ventured away from the heart of their beloved mumblecore genre. Co-stars such as Ed Helms and Judy Greer amp up the wattage, and likely contribute improvisation skills so finely honed that the results don't feel like the genre's usual bumbling improvisation. (One irritating tick the Duplasses hung on to: the abrupt in-and-out zoom on actors' faces. It's so real, man.)
But overall this feels like — gasp — a regular ol' Hollywood movie. Besides Jeff's wanderings, subplots involve the tension between his uptight brother, Pat (Helms), and Pat's wife, Linda (Greer), as well as a secret admirer Mom has at her office. The latter is the weakest of the storylines, as it goes off the rails the moment the twist, which is telegraphed, is revealed — leading to first an upset admiree and then, seemingly an instant later, an ecstatic admiree.
Pat and Linda give the film its real emotional oomph as a struggling couple dealing with possible infidelity. (Even before you get to know them, you want to strangle Pat when he "surprises" Linda with a Porsche they can't afford.) Their scenes, as Jeff helps one trail the other, may be semi-wacky, but the gist ends up breaking your heart. As far as Jeff goes, just when you think he's fulfilled his "Kevin" cosmos for the day, the Duplasses add on a dramatic but-of-course-this-happens climax that isn't really necessary.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home may wrap up a little too neatly, but, despite the downers, it's a fun time throughout, with Segel and Helms playing off each other well and delivering more laughs than letdowns. If this is mumblecore, it's an example you can shout about.