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JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME Movie Review

Jeff (Jason Segel) is the kind of guy who wholeheartedly believes in destiny. He spends the majority of the Duplass brothers’ Jeff, Who Lives At Home trying to convince friends, family, and strangers of the overwhelming power of fate, citing the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan film Signs as if it were a documentary on the subject. But what begins as the charming ramblings of a sweet, anxious slacker turns into a film so maddeningly contrived that the body of Shyamalan references eventually feels less like a punchline and more like a homage.  Or to look at it a different way, it’s a series of increasingly dubious coincidences masquerading as a complex cosmic farce, all occurring over the course of a single emotionally exhausting day.

The plot is thrown into motion when Segel interprets a cryptic phone call as a sign from the universe (it’s actually a wrong number) and steps out into the world looking for an excuse to ignore the errand that his mother (Susan Sarandon) asked him to run. A bit later, Segel runs into his self-centered brother, Ed Helms, who has committed a cardinal sin of cinematic posturing: he has bought a fancy new sports car that he can’t really afford. This tweaks his wife (Judy Greer), who happens to have chosen this day to conduct a rather indiscreet extramarital affair. The siblings spend half the movie effectively stalking her, with Helms returning Segel’s insistent mellowness with red-faced exasperation. There’s also some business with Sarandon trying to identify which of her co-workers is her secret admirer, a silly and inconsequential subplot that tosses in a sensational twist to make it seem worth the audience’s attention.

Mumblecore icons Jay and Mark Duplass go to a lot of trouble making Jeff seem like a fresh, freewheeling slice of life, but the film’s meticulous plotting consistently destroys that illusion. They end up with a lot of lazy shorthand for the type of intimate dramedy that they were aiming for, including the shaky, indiscriminately-zooming camera and a milquetoast jazz score. Segel brings an unexpected physicality to a role that’s essentially an assemblage of twee affectations, but he’s powerless against the fatigue that arises as the filmmakers fabricate increasingly labored reasons to push these characters along their predictable arcs. Jeff, Who Lives At Home starts strongly and has the decency to end quickly (a brisk 82 minutes), but it’s already lost once it thrusts Segel into a semi-messianic quest to free the squares from their shackles of self-reliance. Imagine what he could do with two days.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” opens today in limited release.

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The Author

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is a film critic and correspondent for Screen Invasion, as well as the founder of Ambler Amblog (http://ambleramblog.blogspot.com/). His parents named him after a Welsh spy novelist they found in a reference book. Someday he will get around to watching all the VHS tapes he bought at Goodwill.