Looking for a sign – Jeff, Who Lives at Home review (Sydney Film Festival)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home - Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 16, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release.

Jason Segel stars in Jeff, Who Lives at Home as Jeff (the one who lives at home, with his mother). The picture opens with him reporting to a dictaphone the transformative experience of a recent re-watching of M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs. He sees it as a plea for people to keep their eyes peeled for cosmic signals that might offer one’s life meaning. Moments later, we see him reclining on a couch and taking hits from a bong. This explains the open-minded and surprisingly forgiving critique of Shyamalan’s film. (That’s just a joke; I actually adore that movie too, independent of any herbal enhancements.)

The fourth feature from Jay and Mark Duplass is the least impressive of their canon, despite it being sweet and slight and slim in all the right ways. It is a more promising transition for the brotherly writer-director duo from mumblecore to mainstream than Cyrus (which is better, though it’s darker and has far more edges to its form). Soon I hope they can deliver something that lives up to their brilliant debut flick The Puffy Chair, but seeing them experiment with big-name actors in the meantime is still fun to observe.

Jeff is tasked by his exasperated mom Sharon (Susan Sarandon) to pick up some wood glue and fix a panel on the shutters, a job she pretty much knows won’t be completed by her unambitious 30-year-old baby boy. With his eyes and ears open to messages from the universe that might finally explain to him what he should do with his life, Jeff sets out on an epic quest; one almost immediately railroaded by his superstitious hunches. Whilst wandering Louisiana, he runs into his estranged brother Pat (Ed Helms), and they both spot Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) taking a lunch-date with a mysterious gentleman. Earlier in the day, Pat revealed to Linda that instead of saving for a home he has blown their money on a Porsche. There’s a good chance that she’s going to cheat on him.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is carried aloft by Segel’s seemingly infinite well of charm and his character’s good intentions; first to make something of his existence, and later to save his brother’s marriage. Helms flexes a more dramatic muscle than he’s normally allowed, and the always-reliable Greer and Sarandon are more than capable of jumping the emotional hurdles set for them by the Duplasses. Also appealing is the long-absent Rae Dawn Chong as Sharon’s work-mate, helping her navigate the advances of a secret admirer. Each member of the cast is perfectly adept at finding the right level of comedy and pathos in the film’s low-stakes world. It’s a credit to the filmmakers that, when the drama is elevated exponentially in the final sequence, it feels both surprising and earned. It’s also pretty funny at times. Jeff, Who Lives at Home may not be exceptional, but, at the very least, those who share Jeff’s outlook – and opinion on Signs - should surely love it.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 16, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release.

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