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Movie Pick

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (R) Jeff (Jason Segel), a 30-something slacker on permanent vacation, smoking weed and pondering the mysteries of the universe while living in his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement, has a life-changing day when he leaves the house to run an errand. Obsessed with the Mel Gibson movie Signs, Jeff believes he’s found a pattern of meaning when the name Kevin keeps popping up. Jeff wanders across the city to fulfill his obscure destiny, engaging with strangers and helping his supposedly more responsible older brother Pat (Ed Helms) spy on his wife (Judy Greer), who Pat believes is having an affair. Meanwhile, one of Sharon’s co-workers keeps sending her flirtatious instant messages, and she sets out to track down her secret admirer.

Directors Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, Baghead) and their cinematographer Jas Shelton love the zoom. The lens ferrets out the screen frame with the anxiousness of a bumblebee, frequently zooming in on Segel’s doughy earnest face to emphasize a moment of dramatic realization. Shaky handheld camera work has been a mainstay, and a cliché, of movies and television for well over a decade now, becoming the dominant style in everything from TV sitcoms to big-budget action movies to low-budget horror movies. It’s employed lazily most of the time and can be an obnoxious crutch. The Duplass brothers and Shelton do use it with some thought, but it always feels manipulative and is a tether preventing us from exploring the movie on our own terms. For all of the improvisational looseness and verisimilitude of their work, the Duplass brothers can come off as pretty stiff.

Luckily, what the brothers are great at is getting excellent performances from their actors and for grounding their movies in a recognizable reality. Jeff… is funny throughout and deceptively poignant even as it too-tidily wraps things up and indulges in some misguided cosmic good vibes. But it always feels lightweight in comparison to Cyrus, the brothers’ last comedic feature which was a real progression from their earlier “mumblecore” work like The Puffy Chair, their indie breakout hit from 2005. This is nevertheless worth a look, despite its drawbacks, and it joins a growing list of American comedies such as Greenberg, Cedar Rapids and Young Adult, among others, that are successfully chronicling the angst and disappointment of everyday life without sacrificing the laughs.


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