Jeff, Who Lives at Home talks a lot about signs. Both in terms of omens and portents, and also the terrible M. Night Shyamalan film. Fortunately, it is better than the latter, but its use of the former serves as a detriment at times.
The movie is written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, known for them ramshackle, low-key, low-fi movies and their appearances on The Mindy Project. They managed to generate an excellent cast for this film. The titular Jeff is played by Jason Segal. His obnoxious jerk of an older brother Pat is a goateed Ed Helms. Pat's suffering wife is the underrated Judy Greer. Jeff, and Pat's mother, who spends most of the film in her own little storyline, is the legendary Susan Sarandon.
However, and unsurprisingly given the title of the movie, the main character is Jeff, and some of his traits are a bit of an issue. He's a 30-year-old shiftless pothead living in his mom's basement. He's obsessed with the movie Signs, and he's always looking for signs in his own life, treating simple coincidences as if though they have some grand meeting. This is fine in and of itself. The concern comes in terms of whether or not Jeff ends up justified for his beliefs. Obviously, they are ridiculous and absurd and illogical, and the worry is that his feelings will turn out to be true. Sure, there are movies that deal with impossible things that are quite good. However, there's a difference between, say, a Ghostbusters and this. Ghostbusters is a comedy that offers you up a conceit off the bat and we go from there. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a closely observed, low-key dramedy. It can't get away with something like that and strike the same chord.
While the movie would be somewhat spoiled if this was discussed too in-depth, but for the most part it isn't an issue. Admittedly, at its worst this movie feels like Being There without the sharp satirical edge; mostly it is a well-done emotional film about a family, and particularly two brothers. Jeff's beliefs start his journey, which brings him into the life of Pat, and things go from there. The movie takes place all within one day. The plot moves forward in an interesting, engaging matter, and it ratchets up the intensity without it ever feeling forced. Of course, at a mere 83 minutes, the Duplass Brothers aren't trying to fill up a ton of time, but a shorter movie that never drags is not in and of itself an issue.
All the main actors do a very good job in the movie, with Helms probably standing out the most. It is funny on the occasion, but it is also genuinely emotionally engaging as well, and it knows how to balance the two. The character of Jeff and his journey would have been better served to be tweaked a bit, but it's not a major hindrance. In total, Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a good movie. It does feel a bit shambling at times, has some logistical issues, and could have stood to be a bit more substantive. However, if you want a few laughs and a touch of pathos, and if maybe you have a narrow window and can use a shorter movie, then this film should suffice. If nothing else, it's better than Signs.