Of course Jeff (Jason Segal) lives at home. Just about everyone lives at home; that’s what “home” means. The thing about 30-year-old Jeff, though, is that he still lives at the home he never-quite grew up in. He lives in the basement of his mother’s home, and while he tells her he is busy when she calls from the office, he really does not do much but smoke pot and watch movies, certainly nothing by way of education or employment. We first see him dictating his thoughts on yet another re-watching of M. Knight Shyamalan’s deterministic alien invasion movie, Signs. In tight close-up, there is almost a rapturous expression on his face as he recounts the way that seemingly random events and choices turn out to be essential. That enlightened insight about interconnectedness seems to have no relationship to Jeff’s being on the toilet as he discusses it.
Jeff’s mother asks him to go to the store and get some wood glue so that he can repair a broken slat in the shutters. And it is her birthday. So like heros in epics from the earliest days of storytelling, Jeff undertakes a journey and a quest. He makes a rare excursion away from home.
Jeff may be going out for wood glue, but in his heart the quest is for meaning and connection. The wrong number asking for “Kevin” he received that morning could be a sign of some kind. And so, when Jeff sees a guy on the bus with “Kevin” on the back of his basketball shirt (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross), he follows him off the bus instead of staying on to get to Home Depot for the glue. After some misadventure — and a pick-up game — he runs into his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms of “The Office” and “The Hangover”), who has been drowning his troubles at a Hooters after surprising his wife, Linda (Judy Greer of “The Descendents”) with a Porsche they cannot afford. Pat and Jeff get into the Porsche so they can buy the wood glue but once again a number of detours lead them astray, after they see Linda out with a man they don’t recognize. Meanwhile, their mother (an enchanting Susan Sarandon) is receiving flirtatious overtures from an anonymous admirer somewhere in her office’s nest of cubicles and finding herself flattered and intrigued and nervous.
Writer/director brother team Jay and Mark Duplass (“The Puffy Chair”) are often credited or criticized for creating the genre of “mumblecore,” a category of 21st century independent characterized by inarticulate and often aimless characters ineffectually grappling with the transition to adulthood. But it is a mistake to underestimate the strong structural foundation that underlies this film. Both Jeff and Pat are immature and inclined to numb their feelings (with pot or a Porsche). But the essential debate they (sometimes inarticulately) have about meaning and connection is nicely echoed in the seeming coincidences and randomness of their journey and the way they rediscover their own connection.
Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references including adultery, drinking and drug use, and some peril and scuffles.
Family discussion: Whose life changes the most by the end of the movie? Why did Pat and Jeff respond so differently to the loss of their father?
If you like this, try: “Daytrippers” and “The Puffy Chair”