Looks for a Sign
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
One of my editors at Marvel was a fortysomething guy who still lived at home, in his parents’ basement, seemingly content with his solitary lifestyle – what some psychologists call Failure to Launch. A grown-up kid.
There have been several movies on the subject. One was a comedy starring Matthew McConaughey called appropriately enough, “Failure to Launch.” The dark Ben Stiller comedy titled “Greenberg” gave us a glimpse of the same malaise as he housesits for his brother. “Cyrus” was a film about an entrenched adult son trying to derail his mother’s romantic life. You get hints of this also in Richard Linklater’s “Slackers” and Kevin Smith’s “Clerks.” Or “Five Easy Pieces.”
Aimless guys searching for a direction.
Now along comes “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” an indie film on the same topic. It’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Jeff (as portrayed by Jason Segal) is a 30-year-old man-child who is still searching for the Meaning to Life. He draws most of his conclusions from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” a movie about visitors from outer space. It convinces him that nothing is random. He just can’t find the connections.
A wrong number sets his life on a spin cycle like an unbalanced load of wash. Yet is it not “the best day in the history of the whole world”?
Maybe, maybe not. Jeff needs a sign.
Even so, Jeff is comfortable living in his mom’s basement. His mother (Susan Sarandan) is exasperated with her son and enlists his brother Pat (Ed Helms) to get him off the couch and out into the world.
Easier said than done.
When Jeff leaves his basement sanctuary in search of wood glue, he winds up hanging with his brother Pat. As much as Jeff is a failure at singularity, Pat isn’t doing too well with his marriage. A sports car doesn’t seem to be the cure for midlife crisis. And Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) is not all that thrilled with her slacker brother-in-law helping her husband keep tabs on her.
That said, “Jeff Who Lives at Home” is more a slice of life than a story. The film has trouble making up its mind whether to be funny or serious. All the characters are a tad too exaggerated. Segal too muddled. Helms too tightly wound. Sarandon too frustrated. Greer too irritated.
Jason Segal seems to be applying for a patent on sweet, clueless characters. But the lovable mug act that served him so well in “The Muppets” (a franchise he all but singlehandedly resurrected) and in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is wearing thin.
My favorite Segal persona is his amiable, save-the-world character in the “How I Met Your Mother” TV series. Here he knows what he wants out of life: His wife Lilly. A job with an environmentally friendly organization. The companionship of his friends.
Not so in “Jeff Who Lives at Home.” The writing-directing team of Jay and Mark Duplass is exploring familiar territory (they gave us “Cyrus”), but this time without a destination in sight.
The film, like its protagonist, seems a bit too aimless.