Jason Segel plays Jeff, Baton Rouge bong aficionado and holy fool. It often seems like he’s using acting tips garnered from one of the more slack-jawed, tattered Muppets: Sweetums, say. Ed Helms, as his goateed brother Pat, is merely doing a Danny McBride imitation and, as much as I love Eastbound & Down, I don’t think we need a second Danny McBride. They are paired on an adventure—well, Jeff sees it as an adventure; Pat sees it as an aggravation and then a crisis—because Jeff answers what he contends is a cosmically significant wrong-number call for somebody called Kevin, while Pat has sussed that his wife (the perpetually underused Hope Davis) is cheating on him. This requires inept tailing missions, with Jeff riding the back of a passing truck. They get calls from their mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who is exasperated and has maybe built a life on expecting exasperation.
Then the movie makes an unlikely pirouette, and becomes something bewitching and lovely.
It makes the switch in two moves. “This is not how I imagined my life was going to be,” says Sharon, daubing her eyes beneath a hand dryer. Her friend, played by half-forgotten ’80s star Rae Dawn Chong, offers an unexpected reply: “How did you imagine it?”
that second line that I found seismically affecting. Are Mark and Jay
Duplass suggesting, after all this grungy stasis, that some kind of
change is possible? They are, and the movie walks boldly through that
door. It engages in the sort of freed wish-fulfillment Charlie Kaufman
half-parodied in the last reel of Adaptation. This, too, is a
case of cerebral filmmakers, usually too wised-up to trust the escapist
power of movies, briefly dropping their defenses. The movie’s final 20
minutes, which redeem all the failed comedy that came before, aren’t
really comedy at all, but a kind of poetic ecstasy. The movie refuses to
be defined by expectations. Like Jeff, it jumps onto what passes
through and gets carried away. R.
Critic’s Score: 77
SEE IT: Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens Friday at Fox Tower and Clackamas.