Jason Segel, left, and Ed Helms in a scene from "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." / Special to GoPensacola.com
'Jeff, Who Lives at Home'
Three stars (out of four)
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Three stars (out of four)
Jeff lives at home, but he doesn't do much of anything, including anchor his own film.
But that's OK. His brother and, particularly, his mother are just broken enough to make "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" a winner despite its energy-less title character.
Jason Segel plays Jeff with unkempt likability, portraying a 30-year-old who lives at home, records his thoughts on the toilet and hasn't had a girlfriend since his father died when he was a teen.
There's nothing wrong with Jeff as a character — lovable stoners are a Hollywood fixture. They're just tough to hang a movie on. Jeff is no exception: He's given little to do beyond drifting from one dysfunctional relationship to another, looking befuddled and offering advice like "go with your gut."
Thankfully, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon pick up where Jeff leaves off, and then some.
Sarandon has become an actress who has not only glided seamlessly into middle age, she's adroit at grappling with the slide onscreen. Her loneliness and fatigue with her sad-sack sons is heartbreaking.
Sweet and silly, "Jeff" begins with a hilarious homage to "Signs," the M. Night Shyamalan thriller that posits that all events are predestined. It's a motif that rules Jeff the man and the movie. Jeff floats from toilet to bong to television, wondering what the universe has in store.
Jeff's brother Pat (Helms), meanwhile, is trying to convince his wife Linda (the terrific Judy Greer) that a financed Porsche will be the key to their ailing marriage.
Directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair"), Jeff begins as a sibling rivalry but soon becomes a showcase for Sarandon's Sharon, a mother who can't help but enable and curse her children.
Instead of being the Hollywood nagging mom, Sharon reveals scars that run far deeper than her kids'. With a single, insecure glance at her compact mirror, Sarandon conveys that this is a woman who never regained balance after her husband's death 17 years ago.
It's in those serious moments, of all things, that "Jeff" finds its stride.
Two scenes, in particular, are harrowing: A fight between Pat and Linda could have been lifted from a real marriage counselor's office. And a car crash in the film's finale unnerves for what it doesn't show.
It's not enough to make "Jeff" fire on all cylinders. Helms is solid as a stupefied Everyman, but it's largely the role he plays on "The Office." And Segel's character simply isn't given enough back story; that his father died is tragic, but hardly an explanation for his oddball behavior.
But Sarandon is worth leaving home for, even if Jeff won't.