'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' (R)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a surprisingly sappy misfire from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass – a hug-it-out, touchy-feely movie that succumbs to the maudlin sentimentality they had avoided in all their previous pictures (The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus). The movie starts out promisingly, as the titular 30-year-old pothead (Jason Segel) launches into a post-bong rant about the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs and how the film holds the key to understanding the universe.

Jeff, who is so unmotivated his harried mother (Susan Sarandon) can barely get him to leave the basement, is finally forced to venture outside and run an errand for her. Eager to find some direction in life, and with Signs still on his mind, the slacker interprets several unconnected elements — a random phone call, a T-shirt and a passing truck — as proof a higher power is trying to send him a message.

Segel (The Muppets, I Love You, Man) is coming close to playing the man-child act to death, but he gives Jeff an earnest, naïve sensibility that makes you go with the movie for a while. The film improves considerably when his brother Pat (Ed Helms), a callous jerk who is married and has a career, goes out and splurges on a Porsche, angering his wife (Judy Greer) to the point of contemplating an affair.

The middle portion of Jeff, Who Lives at Home is breezy and funny, blending the Duplass’ usual focus on character with madcap, physical comedy. But then the story takes some maudlin, weepy turns, heading into dramatic territory comedians such as Helms just aren’t built for. The film isn’t a total wash — for example, the movie does a good job of portraying the random cruelty of married couples who take each other for granted — but this is the first picture the Duplass brothers have made where I guessed the final shot five minutes in.

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong.

Writers-directors: Jay and Mark Duplass.

Producers: Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, Jason Reitman.

A Paramount Vantage release. Running time: 82 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Opens Friday March 16 at area theaters.


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