With each new movie, filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass show greater assurance as writers and directors. Though their films now feature recognizable (even well-known) actors and their production values are a little glossier, they haven’t lost their determinedly personal take on the stories and characters on which they focus.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” may be their best film yet. A story of two lost souls who happen to be brothers and who unexpectedly find a connection with each other, “Jeff” is heartfelt, funny and continually surprising.
Jason Segel is the title character, a slacker who spends his time smoking his bong in the basement of his mother’s house. He’s waiting for … something, though he’s not quite sure what.
He seems to be working on a unified field theory of everything: that everything and everyone is connected to everything else. His guiding manifesto is the M. Night Shymalan film “Signs,” which he believes achieves a perfect moment at the end, when everything comes together to make sense.
And he’s convinced that his own life has the same kind of clues built into it, if he’d only pay attention.
So one stoned day, he does exactly that: pay attention. It starts with a wrong number call looking for someone named Kevin. Forced to leave the house to run an errand to Home Depot for his mother, he sees a young man on the bus with “Kevin” on the back of his basketball jersey and follows him. Adventures ensue.
The film toggles back and forth between Jeff and his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms). Pat, a goateed jerk, announces to his long-suffering wife Linda (Judy Greer) over breakfast that he’s bought the Porsche she specifically told him they couldn’t afford on his salary as a salesman at a paint store.
For good measure, the Duplasses also loop in Jeff and Pat’s mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who works in an office and is eventually revealed as the lonely widow she is. So she is both wary and intrigued when she starts to receive anonymous IMs from a coworker, flirting with her. It makes her nervous (is this a joke at her expense?) but a little titillated (is someone really interested in me?).
Jeff’s quest to find Kevin eventually leads him to Pat, with whom he has a fractious relationship. But the two of them wind up teaming as sleuths when their coincidental meeting allows Pat to see Linda at a gas station with another man. They wind up following her – to lunch and then to a hotel.
It’s hard to say more without giving away too much.
This review continues on my website.