Jeff, Who Lives at Home seems ripe for a meandering plot. The story revolves around a directionless protagonist who looks for signs to guide him while his family members suffer through their own unrelated personal trials. Surprisingly, the film offers a substantially straightforward presentation, and audiences will enjoy this satisfying dramedy of lost people finding their way back.
Jeff (Jason Segel) is an unemployed 30-year-old pothead who lives alone in his mother’s basement. He believes he’s destined for something, but isn’t sure what the signs are to lead him on the path. When the infomercial he’s watching tells him to pick up the phone just as he receives a call from someone dialing the wrong number, looking for “Kevin”, Jeff thinks that destiny is finally reaching out to him. To encourage him on his journey is his long-suffering widowed mother (Susan Sarandon) who needs Jeff to run an errand, which forces him to leave the house. While out and about, Jeff runs into his older brother (Ed Helms) who thinks buying a Porsche will solve his marital problems, but soon discovers that his wife (Judy Greer) might be having an affair.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn’t have the most compelling plot known in cinema. It’s not ostensibly interesting to follow a guy around the city, chasing moments that may or may not be a sign of greater things. Ironically, that’s also the charm of Jeff’s story and character. It’s not often that a person is such a true believer that they’re willing to follow every little lead on faith alone. It’s that novelty of persona that makes Jeff’s story a curiosity, if only to see if the audience is going to witness something amazing or is being played for fools.
Thankfully, the other family members’ plots are more grounded in tradition. Jeff’s mother feels like her life took a wrong direction somewhere after her husband passed away and sees a chance to rekindle the excitement when a secret admirer enters her life. The identity of the admirer is more or less given away halfway through the mother’s story, but the conclusion is satisfying nonetheless. The same can be said for Jeff’s brother’s and sister-in-law’s story, which offers most of the comedy and drama in the film. With that in mind, all three stories – Jeff’s and his respective family members’ – resolve quite neatly.
The cast is adequate and natural throughout – even the day players. The heavy lifting, however, is performed by Ed Helms and Judy Greer who provide emotionally charged scenes and subtle comedy whenever they share the screen. Helms employs greasy salesman facial expressions against Greer’s deadpan looks of disbelief and the dynamic is fun to watch. Beyond the acting, however, are the choices the actors made in dialogue and movement that weren’t scripted. Filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass gave the actors room to improvise and the final product is impressively cohesive and realistic.
A few nitpicky criticisms would be that the camera plays too much of a character in the film sometimes. It’s especially noticeable early on with its constant extra close-ups on facial reactions that aren’t there. Some scenes also feel artificial to the story the movie is trying to tell, like when Jeff’s brother haggles with some homeowners over how much he should pay for damage he caused to a tree. Overall, however, there’s very little to dislike about Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
On the other hand, there’s not much that’s remarkable about this film, either. It’s disposable entertainment in a non-pejorative sense. There aren’t any scenes or conversations that will stick with audiences after they leave the theater. Nevertheless, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a fine way to pass the time at the movies with a few laughs and cheers as realistic characters suffer through their human weaknesses and strengths. Just don’t expect much more.