When I went to see the Duplass brothers’ “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” over the long weekend, I braced myself for another mediocre comedy about a man-child who refuses to grow up. I’m actually a fan of those comedies, but I don’t expect much from them.
Judging by the title, Jason Segel’s top-billing and the fact that co-writer/director Mark Duplass stars in a show about fantasy football (FX’s “The League”), I thought I would have exactly this experience: I’d watch Segel do his bug-eyed thing, enjoy the clever one-liners and pop culture references and make a mental venn diagram comparing the moments I laughed to the moments I cringed.
To my surprise, that wasn’t my experience at all.
“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is about a thoughtful, 30-year-old slacker (Segel) who’s been thinking about his place in the world. Jeff believes the universe sends signs to guide us, but his cynical brother, Pat (Ed Helms), doesn’t agree — until a simple errand sends the pair on a day-long journey toward destiny. Throw in two car crashes, a broken marriage and an AIM-chat secret admirer and you’ve got a touching, clever comedy-drama about human connection and self-discovery.
Segel, who consistently takes blasé roles as clumsy galoots, turns out a truly tender performance in this film. Look for the moments when his face switches from innocent amusement to watery-eyed epiphany in about half a second. You’ll end up with the same expression.
The supporting cast’s performances were equally absorbing. Susan Sarandon (Jeff’s mother) is, as always, fantastic. Her character’s compelling subplot culminates in the film’s most joyous moment. Helms plays his character so against his norm he’s almost repugnant at first, and Judy Greer, as his unhappy wife, easily steals the few scenes in which she appears.
I also want to point out how great the original score was. Michael Andrews’ deceptively simple music was delightful, carrying the action in bursts of playfulness and poignancy. I’m itching to buy the soundtrack.
It’s not often that I walk out of a theater crying because I feel my faith in humanity has been restored. At the film’s heart is a simple, but much needed, reminder: people have an endless capacity to be excellent to each other. You bet I just borrowed a phrase from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” to acknowledge the endurance of compassion in our cynical world.
Coming in at a cozy 83 minutes, this film is a breath of fresh air. Take a short break during the next few weeks and go see “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” You don’t need to wait for a sign.
3 and half out of 4 stars