This little movie – it’s only 83 minutes – seems so determined to if not avoid, then only caress the tropes of slacker films ( The Hangover, Bridesmaids, Wayne’s World and others of their ilk) that it commits the worst sin for a comedy: It’s boring.
On paper Jeff Who Lives at Home seems to have a lot going for it. Jason Reitman as co-producer. The brothers Duplass, who scored positive notices with Cyrus and Baghead, tag-teaming on the writing and directing. A crackerjack cast, including Ed Helms ( The Office) as Pat, a paint-store employee who thinks his flat-lined marriage (to Judy Greer) can be saved by buying a Porsche, and Jason Segel as his brother, the titular character who, at 30, does indeed live at home in Baton Rouge with his widowed, exasperated mom ( Susan Sarandon).
Jeff’s the kind of gentle, stupefied, slovenly soul who thinks M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is great cinema, smokes copious amounts of weed from a bong and is forever pondering “his fate, his destiny” without, of course, ever getting out of his track pants to do very much about it.
Until, that is, while sitting stoned one day in his basement, he gets a phone call from an angry dude asking for Kevin. The call arrives at the same time as Jeff is watching a TV talking head named (uh-huh) Kevin shill for a life-changing health product.
Since Jeff believes “everyone and everything is connected in this world” – this, in fact, is one of three epigraph-like bits of Jeffian wisdom that the Duplasses post at the film’s start – he becomes convinced that the name Kevin somehow holds the key to his place in the cosmos.
It’s a conceit affirmed shortly thereafter when, en route to the Home Depot, he finds himself on the same bus as a young, black basketball player with the name Kevin stitched to the back of his shirt. Quicker than you can say “dharma bum,” Jeff is embarking on the Tao of Kevins, wherever and in whatever incarnations he finds them.
It sounds clever. Unfortunately, the Duplass brothers never give the cleverness the juice, the friskiness required to make the premise and the promise pop.
As a result, Jeff Who Lives at Home too often feels more enervated than energized. It’s a film you want to like, to guffaw and groan over – but the Duplass boys seem so concerned not to overdo the slapstick or to go for the gross-out that the movie errs on the side of gentility, the performances are damped down.
Worse, it’s almost unbearably sentimental, its celebration of second chances, familial affection and renewal about as poignant and hard won as the rhyming couplets in a Hallmark card.
On the plus side, Segel builds a winning rapport with Helms as their paths constantly intersect in Helms’s quest to discover if his wife is having an affair. Ditto Sarandon and Rae Dawn Chong, playing office co-workers.
Finally, however, Jeff Who Lives at Home relies too much on the charm of quirk, the taste of honey. Its climax comes so quickly, in fact, and the denouement is so short and such a concentration of sweetness that even as the credits began to roll, I couldn’t believe Jeff Who Lives at Home had ended. It felt like a movie that was only just preparing to hit its stride and deliver the laughs we’d come for.
Jeff Who Lives at Home
- Directed and written by Jay and Mark Duplass
- Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer
- Classification: 14A
- 2 stars