Jeff (Jason Segel) is a 30-year-old pot-smoking layabout who lives in the basement of his mother’s house. He is a slacker with a destiny; he’s just waiting for it to arrive. Jeff, who has seen M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs a few too many times, also believes that everything happens for a reason, and that something seemingly trivial in his life — like leaving half-empty glasses of water laying around the house — will lead him to his own destiny. That insignificant event turns out to be a wrong number. Someone calls and asks for Kevin. There is no Kevin in Jeff’s house, but Jeff takes it as a call to action. Jeff hits the bong, grabs a bus, and follows the day where it leads him.
On the bus, he sees a guy wearing a jersey with the name Kevin on it. Jeff gets off the bus and follows Kevin to a basketball court, which will eventually take Jeff to his estranged brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who is experiencing a rough patch in his marriage to Linda (Judy Greer). Pat — who looks and acts the part of assistant manager at a retail store — defied his wife’s wishes and bought a Porsche, and before the day is out, he’ll demolish his new car and catch his wife in the midst of an affair.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Pat’s mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), works phones in nondescript cubicle job. It’s her birthday. She receives instant messages from an anonymous secret admirer in her office.
Eventually, that random wrong number that began the day will bring Jeff, Pat, Linda, Sharon, and Sharon’s secret admirer together, and Jeff — who has no job, and who hasn’t had a girlfriend since high school — will discover his destiny.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an interesting and sweet departure for the Duplass Brothers, who are the best known mumblecore directors. Typically, one of their mumblecore flicks will start with a high concept premise and, using skilled improvisors, take the conceit to its natural and logical conclusion. Jeff, Who Lives at Home seems to work in reverse. It’s almost as if the Duplass Brothers had an end point in mind and worked backwards from it, eventually finding their way back to the film’s starting point: The wrong number.
Low-key and sweet, there’s a quiet poignancy to Jeff, Who Lives at Home that takes an extra beat to flower, but at a short 83-minutes, the film manages to be modest and emotionally satisfying, if not somewhat meandering. The meandering, however, almost seems by design, as though to illustrate the random, illogical and seemingly insignificant nature of the very twists and turns that lead to the climactic events in our lives. The movie doesn’t exactly beat you over the head with substance, but the simple theme resounds. Segel is, as always, amiable and winsome, and Sarandon is flat-out radiant. But the real surprise of Jeff, Who Lives at Home may be Rae Dawn Chong, one of the inspirations for The Case of the Disappearing Actress. Who knew she was still around, much less a surprisingly pleasant presence in this gem of a film?