It's obvious that Jason Segel has a face for comedy. He's got a lumpy, sad-sack mug with a dozen inflections to register disappointment, confusion, and self-doubt. But as the basement-dwelling hero of Jay and Mark Duplass' new quest movie, Segel works his entire posture for laughs. He slumps expressively on the couch, doing bong rips and ignoring chore requests from his exasperated mother (Susan Sarandon). He cringes meekly when being scolded by his asshole older brother (Ed Helms), who at least has a job and wife (Judy Greer). And yet Segel has more range than simply being a six-foot-four schlemiel. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a surprisingly mutable, ultimately poignant day-in-the-life drama about a slacker who genuinely wants to stand tall. "All this randomness is leading somewhere," says Jeff hopefully. As in their prior The Puffy Chair and Cyrus, the Duplass brothers are interested in demi-adults in the process of discovering, however belatedly, who they are. Accordingly, there are some weird emotional shifts in tone in Jeff, a karma caper that alternates between Jeff's increasingly meandering errand and his widowed mother's confusion over a secret admirer at work. Yet throughout his bungling (and his brother's gradual awakening), Jeff has a shambling, stubborn decency, a trace of Lebowski. And when all the characters and coincidences ultimately converge, it oughtn't be surprising that the Duplass brothers hand out multiple merit badges—but at least they feel earned. Jeff is not a major film, but it's an endearing adventure in hope nonetheless.
Jeff sets out on his karmic errand.
Opens Fri., March 16 at Guild 45 and other theaters. Rated PG. 83 minutes.