An occasional sense of impenetrability is offset by a disarming sincerity in the Duplass brothers' comedy/drama.
Set in the sleepy environs of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jeff, Who Lives at Home stars Jason Segel and Ed Helms as a pair of chalk-and-cheese brothers. Jeff (Segel) is a childlike stoner convinced his destiny is bound up with that of a local drug dealer named Kevin (Evan Ross).
While Pat (Helms) is an aggressively insecure schmo who suspects his wife (Judy Greer) of cheating on him. Meanwhile, their repressed mother (Susan Sarandon) wrestles with the insistent affections of a secret admirer at her dull office job. Across a long day, their paths all become intertwined.
The opening montage of old family photographs establishes a reflective tone which somehow survives the following sequence in which Jeff sits on the toilet, relaying his weed-addled interpretation of M Night Shyamalan’s hokey horror, Signs, into a voice recorder. The film subsequently treads into curious territory, somewhere between vague, deadpan mystery, shaggy-dog comedy and emotive family drama.
With little in the way of conventional plot, a strong cast does well with the minimalist material. Helms is outstanding in his abrasiveness, while the hulking Segel is appealingly sensitive. Sarandon shines in a restrained display of slow-burn emotion.
While the low-key, naturalistic hallmarks of the putative ‘mumblecore’ genre are firmly in place, the Duplass brothers also appear to have mined a range of other influences to augment the film’s melancholic aura. In particular, Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski linger like spectres as examples of unlikely American anti-heroes chasing the truth under the influence of mind-altering substances.
Looming largest of all is John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans-set novel, 'A Confederacy of Dunces', with which the film shares a distinct sense of place, an inescapably sad tone and a childlike protagonist indulged by his mother.
As a film about brothers that’s authored by brothers, Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels like a very personal work, though an occasional sense of impenetrability is finally offset by a disarming, perhaps even sentimental, sincerity.
Cyrus proved the Duplasses have mainstream chops.
Odd, sweet and languid, but little to get your teeth into.
At best, it could secure a cult following.