The Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, don’t write and direct indie movies like anyone else. Their characters march to the gently eccentric comic rhythm drumming inside their heads, as in The Puffy Chair, Baghead and the slightly larger Cyrus. The themes are meant to be intuited, not spelled out.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home, being released by a major studio with major names, is still unmistakably Duplass with scripted dialogue that feels improvised. Jeff (Jason Segel) is 30, but still living in the basement of his patient widowed mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), smoking weed and waiting to find his destiny, which doesn’t involve more than Mom asking him to buy glue to fix a shutter. Jeff sits on the toilet and fixates on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, as if that Mel Gibson film held clues about handling the outside world.
Jeff’s older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), has the supposedly enviable job, home and wife (Judy Greer). But the troubled Pat – exorcising his midlife terrors by buying a Porsche – is convinced that his wife, Linda, is cheating on him and enlists Jeff’s help to catch her in her betrayal.
That ignites the comedy as the brothers play at being private dicks. Sharon has her own adventure at the office when she learns she has a secret admirer. It’s a thin plot. But here’s the magic of the Duplass brothers. With the right actors – and Segel, Helms and Sarandon are beyond wonderful – their films make the small, awkward moments of life resonate with emotional power. The surprisingly big climax, with the characters converging on a traffic-clogged bridge, allows Jeff to reaffirm his faith in destiny. The funny, touching and vital Jeff, Who Lives at Home reaffirms your faith in Jay and Mark Duplass. Their films hit you where you live.