In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Jason Segel plays a quintessential mumblecore fixture: the eternal adolescent whose life is locked in a holding pattern. Too old for a quarter-life crisis but not old enough for the mid-life variation, Segel lacks a rudder. But he does have a vague conception of destiny, which leads him in a series of surprising and then predictable directions. Segel begins the film with a wonderfully spacey monologue about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, then sets off into the world in search of symbols and codes. He’s a spiritual seeker with a mind clouded with cannabis, and an animal decency that makes it easy to root for him, no matter how misguided his actions.
Life changes for Segel’s 30-year-old slacker when his mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him to the store for wood glue. Before Segel can get it, he catches Judy Greer, the wife of his estranged brother Ed Helms, with another man, and reconnects with Helms to conduct a half-assed surveillance on her. Sarandon, meanwhile, receives mysterious messages from a secret admirer at work and contemplates giving romance another go late in the game.
Jeff gets off to a terrific start: Segel’s shaggy charisma and daft sweetness breathe new life into a sturdy mumblecore archetype, and a perfectly typecast Helms radiates a grubby desperation that’s poignant and funny. The Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, give the film an ingratiatingly ramshackle tone in keeping with their meandering protagonist, until a third act betrays that low-key naturalism with an assault of melodrama. Jeff’s protagonist sees life as a series of far-fetched coincidences stemming from fate; less-generous souls will see the handiwork of lazy screenwriters. Jeff begins with its protagonist discussing a Hollywood movie and ends by embracing the worst excesses of commercial American filmmaking, but there are enough moments of magic and wonder in the interim to make it worthwhile.