Of all of the young American directors shoehorned into the mumblecore movement, none made a more promising DIY debut than Jay and Mark Duplass with The Puffy Chair in 2005. Their largely improvised dialogue was fresh and finely attuned to twentysomething vernacular, and delivered with a relaxed sense of comedic timing that made comparable performances seem stilted and uncertain. But four films later, the brothers’ breakout success increasingly feels like a serendipitous fluke.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an awkward and miscalculated mix of broad comedy, naturalistic insight, intimate seriocomic digressions, and would-be dramatic payoffs. Jason Segel (as the titular slacker) and Ed Helms (as his estranged older brother Pat) play an archetypal comedic duo in the Abbott and Costello mode, with Jeff as the overly trusting, childlike buffoon and Pat as the constantly scheming, absurdly pompous bully. Both characters are as implausible as the contrived misadventures that have them crisscrossing paths on the sun-blasted strip malls of Baton Rouge. Pat is trying to catch his wife in the act of adultery, while Jeff attempts to buy wood glue and/or prove the cosmic interconnectedness of the universe—yet the actors’ earnest and understated performances fail to find the comic nimbleness that such larger-than-life material demands.
The central theme of Destiny is introduced promisingly enough as a half-baked screed by Jeff’s stoner philosopher but devolves into a hand-wavy excuse for a dramatically overdetermined and embarrassingly “magical” climax.
© 2012 by Paul Brunick