Thursday, March 15, 2012

Adrift and waiting for a sign

To date, the best film from the Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark) remains 2010's Cyrus, a comedy starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei. Cyrus began a movement by the brothers toward movies that retain the offbeat mumblecore edge of previous work (The Puffy Chair and Baghead), but also incorporate mainstream elements, particularly when it came to casting. Jeff Who Lives at Home, the latest from the Duplass brothers, continues the brothers' mash-up approach, this time putting Jason Segel and Ed Helms at the center of a comedy about two very different brothers, each weird in his own way.

Segel's 30-year-old Jeff -- the title character -- lives with his widowed mother (Susan Sarandon), and seems to be stuck in life's mud. Jeff smokes a lot of dope, and appears to have been unduly influenced by M. Night Shyamalan's movie, Signs. Jeff's waiting for his prolonged state of limbo to be shattered by something semi-miraculous. He can't get on with his life until he receives a message from the universe, a sign that will help him chart a course out of his mother's basement. To the rest of the world, this may look like emotional paralysis, but Jeff has confidence that his destiny will be revealed to him.

Brother Pat (Helms) isn't housebound; he has a job working in a paint store and a wife (Judy Greer). Avid and ambitious, Pat longs to climb the ladder of success. He buys things he can't afford (a Porsche) and neglects his wife, who was planning to use the Porsche money to put a down payment on a house. Using household money to indulge a male fantasy is never a good idea, and Pat's purchase leads to trouble. So does his overly aggressive personality.

Not surprisingly, Jeff eventually receives his sign -- or what the takes to be his sign. It arrives in the form of a phone call that introduces him to the name Kevin. Jeff's new mission: find Kevin, a search that produces laughs -- albeit in a low-key register. In keeping with the brothers' scaled-down approach, the story unfolds during the course of one day in Jeff's life.

At a fleet 82 minutes, Jeff Who Lives at Home makes room for some well-executed comic scenes. When Pat and Jeff spy on Pat's wife Linda in hopes of catching her in the midst of an affair, the movie flirts with classic farce.

Meanwhile, Sarandon's Sharon tells a workmate (Rae Dawn Chong) that she's been receiving messages from a secret admirer. Sharon's wary, but the messages quicken her pulse. Could romance be lurking? Will a long-smouldering fire suddenly be re-lit? Can she ever get Jeff to complete a chore?

The Duplass brothers are good at finding absurd humor in moments of fallibility. Jeff Who Lives at Home isn't nearly as sharp or distinctive as Cyrus, but it has enough offbeat humor to get by, and Segal makes Jeff seem like a decent enough slacker, a good-hearted fellow who's mired in a world where cosmic jolts are a definite rarity.

No comments: