A film starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms should be hilarious, right? Plus it’s directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, the brothers who had indie success with the likes of The Puffy Chair and Baghead, and are now making their first properly mainstream movie (the underwhelming Cyrus doesn’t really count). Sadly the results are less than the sum of the parts, with the movie being infuriating in parts and only sporadically entertaining.
As the title suggests, Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home. He’s in his mid-thirties, has no job, doesn’t leave his basement all that often and spends most of his time trying to work out the ‘signs’ he feels are all around him, which will tell him what his destiny is if only he can interpret them properly. His mother (Susan Sarandon) asks him to go out and get some wood glue, however when he receives a wrong phone call for somebody called Kevin, he sees this as a sign, which leads him to get distracted from his task and ends up following someone with the word ‘Kevin’ on his basketball vest.
This eventually leads him to bump into his loud-mouth brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who’s about as different to Jeff as it’s possible to be. Pat’s marriage isn’t going well, and together the brothers end up on an inadvertent quest, following Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) who may be having an affair, while Jeff continues to search for the perfect moment when all the signs and hints come together to tell him what he needs to do to fulfil his destiny.
There’s nothing wrong with making films about people who aren’t 100% likable, but I found it difficult to empathise with either Jeff or Pat. I presume we’re meant to see Jeff as a lovable loser whose naïve but sweet view of life is somehow endearing, but I found it difficult not to see him as a feckless twit whose failure to launch is less sweet than irresponsible. With Pat I’m assuming we’re meant to believe he’s a bit of a pompous ass, but sympathise with the fact his life hasn’t gone the way he hoped it would and that he’s blind to the effect his actions have. Actually though he’s an asshole who has destroyed his own marriage by being selfish and arrogant. Do I really want to spend 85 minutes in the company of people like that? Not really, especially if they’re no laugh out loud funny.
It would be okay if we felt they really learned something through the movie, but the film actively cheats on this score. There’s a scene where both brothers admit they covet the other’s life and then say that actually their existent isn’t as great as it looks to the other, but they’d have to be absolutely blind to want the other’s life, as they’re both blatantly flailing.
Towards the end it looks like the film might actually be going somewhere, but the ending is a giant exercise in smoke and mirrors, so that it looks like things have changed, but nothing’s actually been resolved and everything’s been sorted out utterly artificially. Admittedly there’s always going to be something a tad contrived about a film that fits into the Signs and Magnolia school of everything being connected, but here it feels like it’s mainly a cheat.
The only part of the film that works really well is the subplot involving Susan Sarandon, who has a secret admirer at her work. She doesn’t know who it is, but paper airplanes soar into her cubicle and someone is IM’ing her computer – I won’t say much about who the admirer is, but it’s enough to say it adds a bit of gay interest to the film, with a thought provoking turn of events suggesting who you want to be around doesn’t just have to be about who you want to have sex with. It’s a sweet story that goes in an interesting direction and by about halfway through I was wishing the Duplass’ had just made a film about her and left Jeff at home.
Overall Verdict: Jason Segel and Ed Helms are great talents, but Jeff Who Lives At Home is too muddled, doesn’t know what to do with their characters and cheats the ending.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac