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A short and sweet outing pairing the Duplass brothers with mismatched screen siblings Jason Segel and Ed Helms, Jeff, Who Lives at Homepulls back from the comedy of Cyrusin favor of character-defining vignettes and moments of grace. Box office will benefit from the high-profile cast, though the film may suffer ho-hum word-of-mouth from viewers expecting more laughs given these stars.
Segel has often mined moping and aimlessness for self-mocking humor, but he does so here with a straighter face as the title character, a 30-year-old who never recovered from his father’s death in 1995. Smoking pot in his mom’s basement and rewatching Signs, he’s worried about being alert to cues the universe is dropping about his destiny.
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Jeff’s brother Pat (Helms), on the other hand, achieved his fate years ago and let it decay: His marriage is about to fall apart. In a series of what anyone but Jeff would call coincidences, the brothers catch Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) taking a suspicious lunch with another man, and try to keep tabs on her without her knowledge.
While they pursue an amusingly fate-directed afternoon of gumshoe misadventures, Mom (Susan Sarandon, ready to burst with frisky frustration) has a mystery of her own. Someone at her office is sending her love notes.
Segel’s performance is the heart of the film, his naive faith making other characters’ bolder gestures believable — even a transcendent event at Sarandon’s office, in which Jeff plays no part, seems made possible by his spirit — and while there are comic mishaps along the way, the very brief feature feels like it exists only to enable a single dramatic event in which Jeff has his belief in fate confirmed.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Toronto Film Festival
The Duplasses’ shooting style, executed by Jas Shelton, sometimes seems incapable of letting two shots in a row pass without at least one short zoom in or out (often both in and out in a single shot). The sometimes irritating approach doesn’t serve this uncertain-but-peaceful protagonist as well as, say, the more anxious characters in Cyrus. Then again, maybe it’s just another facet of Jeff’s ill-fitting lifestyle he’s about to learn how to shed.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Paramount Pictures)
Production Companies: Right of Way Films/Indian Paintbrush/Mr. Mudd Productions
Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon
Directors-screenwriters: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Producers: Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, Jason Reitman
Executive producers: Steven Rales, Helen Estabrook
Director of photography: Jas Shelton
Production designer: Chris Spellman
Music: Michael Andrews
Costume designer: Meagan McLaughlin
Editor: Jay Deuby
No rating, 82 minutes
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