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Sunday 22 April 2018

Great white dope

Paul Whitington

jeff who lives at home

(15A, general release, 83 minutes)

Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass Stars: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong


The part that Jason Segel plays in Jay and Mark Duplass's self-consciously eccentric comic drama might have sprung whole from a dozen other American comedies made in the past three or four years.

The pot-smoking, indolent, aimlessly philosophising man-child has appeared so often in movies of late that it has almost become a stock character.

These dopehead slacker types always cook up grandiose excuses for their persistent inactivity, and at least Jeff's is mildly original.

Although the wrong side of 30, Jeff still lives in his mother's basement, watching daytime television, eating junk food and smoking weed. He seems to be in a kind of arrested, permanently teenage state, and his mom, Pat (Susan Sarandon), has thus far failed to motivate Jeff into getting himself some semblance of an independent life.

Jeff's reason for sitting on his fat ass day in, day out is that fate has yet to show him his predestined path. Jeff is obsessed with M Night Shyamalan's innocuous 2002 movie Signs, and believes fervently in a hidden, universal order.

He thinks he's been given a sign when a man rings the house one morning and asks for Kevin. When Jeff politely tells him there's no one here by that name, the man hurls a string of invectives at him and hangs up.

Most people would dismiss the call as a wrong number, but Jeff becomes convinced that fate has plans for him and this 'Kevin', and sets out to meet his destiny.

Jeff Who Lives at Home has more than a little in common with the Duplass brothers' last film, Cyrus, but is less broadly funnier and may have loftier intentions. It's shot in an artsy, handheld way and proceeds in that deliberately slow-moving, scatty style that's the hallmark of American indie movies.

The action takes place in a single day, and Jeff's earnest search for the meaning of life is punctuated by a series of meetings -- with a polite mugger, various bemused strangers and his obnoxious but deeply unhappy older brother, Pat (Ed Helms).

Pat is a man-child of a different kind, a financial fantasist who buys sports cars he can't afford and frustrates his wife Linda (Judy Greer) so much that she's contemplating having an affair.

The film is at its best when it sticks to comedy, and Helms and Segel make a good double act. But the Duplass brothers' script wants to have it both ways, to be sincere and sneering at the same time, and the film's progress and resolution are clumsily handled and a little hard to swallow.

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