[Screen It]

"JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME"
(2012) (Jason Segel, Ed Helms) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A 30-year-old slacker, who still lives at home with his mom, tries to figure out his destiny.
PLOT:
Jeff Thompkins (JASON SEGEL) is a 30-year-old slacker who still lives at home with his mom, Sharon (SUSAN SARANDON), and would rather smoke pot than be responsible enough to do some simple home repairs for her. A firm believer that anything and everything in the world is connected in some fashion, Jeff is easily distracted by such "signs." Today's is a wrong number call from a person looking for someone named Kevin, which later leads Jeff to follow a stranger with that name on a jersey.

In a roundabout way, that reunites Jeff with his competitive brother Pat (ED HELMS), and to the discovery that his sibling's wife, Linda (JUDY GREER), is having an affair with a man by the name of Steve (STEVE ZISSIS). At the same time, Sharon discovers she has a secret admirer at work, something she shares with coworker Carol (RAE DAWN CHONG) while trying to figure out who that might be.

As Jeff helps Pat follow Linda to catch her in the affair, the slacker follows the various signs that keep sprouting up, all while hoping they'll eventually help him figure out his place in the world.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I'm always amazed at how things play out in life, and I'm not referring to smaller, forgettable incidents. Instead, I'm talking about life changing events and all of the things that needed to fall into place in order for them to come about. For instance, while at college, I met an employee of the school who taught me all about television production. That led to me getting a job where I met my eventual wife. It also allowed me to help that other person get a job there as well, which similarly resulted in him meeting his wife.

Had anything interrupted some part of that process, or the myriad of things that preceded that, our four lives, and likely that of others as well would be drastically different. Whether you attribute that to a higher power, serendipity or just plain old luck, it's still a fascinating chain of events any way you look at it.

Granted, few people really recognize that during any given moment of the process, and instead simply look back at the path in awe. But that's not the case for the protagonist of the interesting but awkwardly titled "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." As portrayed by Jason Segel, the titular character is fairly certain there are clues to these sorts of chains and he's always on the lookout for them.

That said, he isn't exactly on any sort of active prowl, and instead ruminates on how anything and everything in life is connected, as evidenced by the plot development in the movie "Signs." Of course, he's dictating this while seated on the john and right before taking a bong hit in his mom's basement where he lives, jobless, and now at the age of 30.

But a wrong number telephone call sets things into motion for him, as the caller's profane request for "Kevin" comes off as a clue for him. That eventually leads to him reuniting with his brother (Ed Helms) and some surprising discoveries about that man's wife (Judy Greer). At the same time, their mother (Susan Sarandon) discovers she has a secret admirer at work and shares that news with a coworker (Rae Dawn Chong) while trying to figure out the person's identity and motives.

That latter element and subplot don't really fit in as tightly with the rest of writer/director Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass' dramedy-based screenplay as I would have liked to have seen. And the seeming randomness of some of what occurs to the protagonist might have some impatient viewers wondering how all of this is going to play out. For the most part, though, the filmmakers keep the proceedings interesting and moving along at a brisk pace during the brief 83-some minute runtime.

The performances are good, with Segel playing the lovable and amiable if ambling "loser" sort of character pitch perfectly. Helms goes the caustic comedy route (as if an angrier version of Stu years after being married in "The Hangover"), while Sarandon is as radiant as ever. Greer is also good, but in the sort of adulterous (or pre-adulterous) way that makes her character not that likeable despite the situation and circumstances that led her to that point.

The payoff, of course, comes at the end, and while some might find that and the string of circumstances leading up to it as a bit contrived, I liked the way everything fell into place and how the characters grew, at least to some degree, from start to finish. And the ending, while not of the knock-your-socks-off variety, has a nice emotional touch to it.

The more profane and coarser elements of the script might keep some viewers at bay, and this isn't any sort of cinematic event that will likely change anyone's life. But the film does end up having some heart to it that should engage many a viewer. And those fascinated by the notion of one's existence and path being predetermined, guided by a higher power or just a set of unrelated coincidences should find enough here to chew on for a while. An amusing diversion with some hefty but lightly played thematic elements, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed February 27, 2012 / Posted March 16, 2012


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