Jeff, Who Lives at Home
The Duplass Brothers' slacker comedy bears too much resemblance to its underachieving protagonist
No one would have believed in the last years of the 20th century that of all the stars to emerge from Judd Apatow’s extraordinary talent nursery Freaks and Geeks, the household name would end up being Jason Segel. He’s not as gorgeous as James Franco or Linda Cardellini, after all, nor as full-on funny as Seth Rogen or Martin Starr. Yet his blend of lunkishness and likeability, of straight man and comic turn, and of leading man and lovable underdog has won him some serious ubiquity of late. So much so that his role in Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels a little too perfectly tooled to his image – he may need to watch for a Jack Black-style burnout.
The eponymous Jeff is, yes, you guessed it, a sweet-natured thirtyish loser with faltering ambition and a close relationship with his bong. Motivation unexpectedly strikes him when his over-achieving brother (The Hangover’s Ed Helms) seeks his assistance in catching his wife out in an affair. The ensuing sitcom-style antics are diverting enough, but the whole thing feels depressingly neutered; it’s like watching an extended pitch by the directors, once gods of the mumblecore underworld, for more studio gigs. (‘Dark? Unconventional? Not us, Mr Executive! We’re nice! We can do happy endings, convenient moral lessons and hugs all round! Please tell Jennifer Aniston we called...!’)
It’s too apparent from the very start that we’re going to be asked to cheer Jeff’s charming hopelessness over the tedious values of all those awful productive people with their jobs and families and houses. And even if that was a sound message – rather than a somewhat disingenuous and pandering one – it would hardly constitute a plot. The result is a film that shares the main qualities of its hero: it’s hard to dislike, but it doesn’t get much done.
General release from Fri 11 May.