Co-directors Mark and Jay Duplass filmed Jeff, Who Lives at Home in their native New Orleans and its surrounding areas, but they mostly abstain from framing more scenic places and promenades. Instead, they favor the lusterless, eyesore environs of contemporary American life: a chain motel, a Hooters bar, a chain-linked basketball court, the breakfast table of a limply appointed apartment. And then there is the wood-paneled basement where Jeff (Jason Segel) is more or less squatting in the house of his mother (Susan Sarandon), the home he grew up in and has returned to in a funk.
Jeff spends his days smoking pot and pondering the big questions - one such inquiry into the nature of interconnectedness he wrestles with on the toilet - and at first it's hard to parse how seriously the Duplass brothers mean for us to take this Jeff, foggy with weed and existentially stumped. Very seriously, it turns out: The film crescendos into a spiritual quest that culminates in a moment of maybe divine intervention.
Segel brings a sweet sincerity to Jeff's soulful fumblings. But Ed Helms as his tone-deaf brother, Pat, is so boorish, so goateed, it's an uncomfortable squirm awaiting his foregone redemption. Sarandon's office-drone mom Sharon suffers from a subplot that feels both disconnected and unlikely. I walked away feeling there was a kind of cruelty to the characterization of Sharon - more pathetic than compassionate - but I wonder if that was a case of miscasting. An actress less historically ballsy might have better served the story of Sharon's baby steps toward an office romance.
The Duplass brothers have an exceptional eye for micro-expressions (yes, they're still zoom-happy), and there's something to be admired in this new interest in a macro lens on the universe's workings. If only it didn't take wading through so much drear to get to the divine.