From the successful directing partnership of brothers Mark and Jay Duplass comes Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011), a naturalistic examination of brotherly love told through the fractured relationship of two wayward siblings played by Jason Segel and Ed Helms. Jeff (Segel) is thirty and currently living in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. He has an unhealthy obsession with smoking weed and 2002’s M. Night Shyamalan film Signs – convinced that there’s a greater calling out there for him.
This devout belief in fate results in an out-of-the-blue call from a wrong number, leading him on a tenuous pilgrimage to find the meaning behind it – coincidentally (or perhaps not) leading him to his brother Pat (Helms), who’s currently experiencing marital difficulties. What Jeff perceives as fate (maybe there are no wrong numbers? Perhaps it’s always the right number), Pat puts down to the stoned ramblings of a hopeless drifter. Regardless of their spiritual differences and polar opposite outlooks on life, when the pair see Pat’s wife enter the car of a mysterious man they work together for the first time since their father’s death to get to the bottom of this suspicious event.
Both Sarandon and Helms produce perfectly restrained and well rounded performances, however the strength of Jeff, Who Lives at Home lies with Segel as the film’s eponymous protagonist. Whilst his leading roles in The Muppets (2011) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) showcased his comedic abilities, this latest outing demands a far rawer performance, relying heavily on a nuanced balancing act between organic humour and unforced emotion – something Segel handles with aplomb.
This tactful execution of the film’s overriding sentiment is also achieved thanks to the heartfelt and dexterous approach of the Duplass brothers. It’s the honest and natural exchanges between Helms and Segel which prevent the film’s tale of fate and domestic love from ever becoming too contrived and coincidental and with the majority of the film’s dialogue shared between the film’s two estranged brothers, it’s clear that the script benefits from having been written and directed by such a tight sibling partnership. The Duplass brothers also used to be in the same band (“Volcano, I’m excited”) an element of their past which has clearly inspired the film’s intrinsically delightful indie soundtrack.
Part mumblecore kitchen sink drama, part paranormal detective story, this sibling bromance adds a fresh and engaging approach to the domestic comedy template so often relied upon in American independent cinema. With just enough humour to counteract the film’s serious overtones and the right balance between formulaic sentiment and naturally evolving compassion, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a delightfully sincere and touching film that subtly pulls you through a range of emotions without ever letting you feel artificially manipulated.