Fraternal writer-director team Jay and Mark Duplass are, so far, the only filmmakers from the DIY ‘mumblecore’ scene to fully embrace – and be embraced by – the mainstream. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant surprise when their Hollywood debut, 2010’s ‘Cyrus’, managed to appeal to a wider audience without compromising their improvisational ethic. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’. This tale of slackerdom v responsibility may bear a number of Duplass hallmarks – sharp insight into human interactions, sparkling off-the-cuff dialogue, a wayward man-child in the lead role – but it feels more predictable, more compromised, more obvious than anything they’ve made before.
Jason Segel is appropriately likeable and schlubby as the titular Jeff, whose life is going precisely nowhere. His brother, Pat (Ed Helms), seems to have it all – wife, job, Porsche, goatee – but appearances can be deceptive. Over the course of one fateful day, these unlikely siblings – and their struggling mother (Susan Sarandon) – bicker, bond, wrestle and learn a few valuable life lessons.
There are moments of real beauty here, most of them courtesy of Segel’s lovably laidback weed-fuelled suburban cosmonaut. But the improvisational edge which defined earlier Duplass movies has been smoothed out, particularly in a surprisingly lazy, ‘follow-your-dreams’ finale. The result is sweet and occasionally moving, but just a little too safe and old-fashioned.