BY CASTING JASON SEGEL and Ed Helms in the leading roles, I'd assumed that Jeff, Who Lives at Home—the latest from mumblecore poster boys Jay and Mark Duplass—was aiming to draw in the type of dude who quotes The Hangover at sports bars. Then the trailer, with its brown tones, indie rock, and film-fest cred suggested it was reaching for glasses-wearing art students. But by turning out to be neither very funny nor very creative, this movie isn't what either clichéd example would hope for. Still, where it lands—a sweet, simple look at a messed-up-in-a-plain-way family—is, if nothing else, kinda pleasant.
The film follows a day in the life of Jeff (Segel), a stoner who (duh) lives at home. He's that kind of horrible pothead you never want to be stuck next to at a party because he won't shut up about how good the movie Signs was. After wandering out of the house, he finds himself with his brother Pat (Helms), a hapless d-bag who is about to discover that his wife (Judy Greer) is having an affair. Meanwhile, their mom (Susan Sarandon) is stuck at an office, generally underwhelmed by life, with many reasons for her saucer-sized eyes to well with tears. Oh, and it's her birthday.
It's established early on that Jeff and Pat have very different approaches to life and, yes, things to learn from one another. Blah blah, life lessons, whatever, right? But to the credit of all involved, this is handled in an honest, believable way: Playing strongly to their typecasts, Helms and Segel's characters both manage to come out the other side like real humans, not just caricatures of themselves. Even a corny, Garden State-esque shot of the brothers sitting together in a bathtub manages to feel sincere.
Sarandon's character arc, however, seems like an afterthought. It's like the filmmakers were a little surprised when she showed up to shoot, and then they went, "Oh crap, we should probably give this freaking Oscar winner some screen time." "Secret admirer?" "Sure, what the hell."