Jeff, Who Lives at home had me at the very first scene, where the title character, played by Jason Segel, professes his undying love for the M. Night Shyamalan movie, Signs. He explains that the family in the movie, though somewhat broken by personal tragedy, manages to fend off an alien invasion, by realizing that every odd thing in their lives has been building up to this one perfect moment.
Jeff has also suffered from a personal tragedy: his father died when he was a teen, and since then he's been in a holding pattern. He lives with his mother (Susan Sarandon), and spends his days watching TV and getting high in the basement, just waiting for the sign that will lead him to his own one perfect moment.
The story kicks into gear when Jeff gets a wrong number call for a guy named Kevin. Sent on an errand by his mother, he goes out, but is distracted into following a guy with the name Kevin on his basketball Jersey. Jeff continues following his "Signs", as they lead him to his brother Pat (Ed Helms), who is a bit of a tool, blissfully unaware that his marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile, Jeff's mother, Sharon, bored and depressed with her work situation and family life, is engaged in the excitement of an unconventional office romance.
The stories don't seem to fit together at first, but things coalesce as events hurtle their way to the big moment the demands of the plot promise to Jeff at the end of the movie.
I think Jeff, Who Lives at Home is very likely the best dramedy inspired by an M. Night Shyamalan movie ever made. Jason Segel is wonderful as Jeff. Even though he's a bit of a loser, you sympathize with him because he's trusting, hopeful, and perceptive. And though it's usually Ed Helms job to play that naive, open-hearted guy, this time around he gets to play a bit of a different character. He thinks buying an expensive new car that he can't afford will solve all of life's problems and maybe give him the social status he's not getting from being a paint company sales rep. Judy Greer plays his wife, and she's great as always. She keeps doing all these great supporting roles and getting none of the attention she deserves.
I'm really interested in the way Jay and Mark Duplass, the brothers who wrote and directed the movie, have been evolving. I just found out about them last year, through their previous movie, Cyrus, which I also enjoyed. It appears that with each movie, they're getting bigger and more ambitious than the last. I like that they're casting these great comedy actors and putting them in roles that encourage them to stretch. I also like seeing comedies that have more to them than laughs.
In addition to all that praise, Jeff, Who Lives at Home just made me happy. It was earnest and free of cynicism and uplifting, without ever seeming forced or cloying. It's not like one of those schmaltzy 90's Robin William movies; it really means what it says. There aren't too many movies like this, so check it out if you can!