FILM-MAKING brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, two key exponents of the low-budget mumblecore movement, err dangerously close to the mainstream with this quirky comedy of ill manners.
Like their previous work, Jeff, Who Lives At Home is distinguished by flowing, naturalistic dialogue and winning performances from an impressive ensemble cast.
Jason Segel and Ed Helms are extremely well matched as brothers from opposite ends of a shallow gene pool, whose humdrum lives are devoid of excitement and meaning.
Neither man is willing to confront the regret that wafts off them like cheap cologne, until a bizarre series of events unexpectedly shepherds the siblings to a life-or-death crossroads.
Ordinary men are capable of extraordinary feats, when they put their simple, addled minds to it.
Thirtysomething layabout Jeff (Segel) lives in the basement of his mother’s home, where he rhapsodises about the Mel Gibson sci-fi thriller Signs.
“I can’t help but wonder about my fate, my destiny,” he ponders aloud, convinced that the universe has big plans for him.
Until then, Jeff will happily moulder in the basement, throwing a tantrum like a truculent teenager when his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) has the temerity to ask him to get some milk from the local convenience store.
A wrong caller asking for someone called Kevin sparks Jeff’s febrile imagination and the waster becomes convinced that the enigmatic Kevin is going to play a pivotal role in his future.
During a city-wide search for the elusive Kevin, Jeff helps his brother Pat (Helms) patch up his marriage to Linda (Judy Greer) with a spot of covert surveillance.
Meanwhile, their mother hunts for a secret admirer at her workplace who keeps instant messaging compliments to her PC.
Framed by the tug of war between free will and destiny, Jeff, Who Lives At Home is an engaging portrait of lives in a rut that mines a rich vein of earthy humour.
Banter between Segel and Helms rings true and there is a lovely, touching moment when they pause to consider the answer to their father’s favourite riddle: “What is the greatest day in the history of the world?”
Humour and heartfelt emotion are happy bedfellows, especially when the characters speak from their aching hearts, such as when Jeff tells Pat and his mother, “You and mum will never understand me and you’re all I have left.”
Equally gorgeous is a tender sequence involving Sarandon’s lovesick mom, who has always dreamed of being kissed beneath a waterfall.
In the hands of another director, this bold romantic overture might have jarred but it works beautifully here, illuminated by Sarandon’s warm and unself-conscious portrayal.
The twists of the final five minutes, which tie loose plot threads together, feel slightly contrived, but are satisfying nevertheless.