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'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' buoyed by good performances by Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R) (83 min.) — There are no coincidences in life, according to Jeff (Jason Segel). No wrong phone numbers dialed, no chance meetings and even getting mugged has cosmic implications. You'd have to be stoned to believe that, and Jeff usually is, camped in his mother's basement watching infomercials, awaiting some kind of fate.

In one afternoon nothing and everything will happen to Jeff. His widowed mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), will ask him to buy some wood glue and fix a closet door while she's at work. He'll run into his brother Pat (Ed Helms), who's equally immature, but has a shiny new sports car to show for it. Pat believes his wife, Linda (Judy Greer), is having an affair — and doesn't blame her — so Jeff tags along to gather evidence. Wood glue will have to wait.

Writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass look at these relatively mundane lives and see the universe, a place where every little thing means more than you think. They're squarely on Jeff's side, philosophically speaking. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is modest about this, as low-key as Segel's portrayal and a bit tedious even at barely 80 minutes of running time.

Holding the movie together is a trio of performances deftly conveying more than the roles suggest. Segel tapers his big galoot comedy style, the way the Duplass brothers guided Jonah Hill to an admirable stretch in last year's Cyrus. Helms' overeager beaver persona doesn't deliver Hangover laughs, rather hangdog dramedy. Sarandon hasn't been this good in a while, with Sharon facing the most emotionally rewarding fate of all.

The Duplass brothers lead these characters through ordinary circumstances becoming exceptional, but none more than Sharon's. She has been lonely since her husband's death, so messages from a secret admirer at the office hold promise shining in Sarandon's eyes. The identity of her suitor will be revealed, along with Sharon's deepest desire, leading to one of the most memorable screen kisses in years.

Moments like that make Jeff, Who Lives at Home easier to engage despite its slow pacing and the Duplass' obsession with zippy camera zooms and extreme close-ups. It's a movie that grows on you, after grating your nerves while viewing it. Still, audiences drawn by Segel and Helms' previous comedies may leave disappointed by this small ragged movie with a big mushy heart. B

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' buoyed by good performances by Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 4:30am]
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