The first on-screen pairing of Jason Segel and Ed Helms in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” might seem like a formula for a laugh-out-loud, gross-out bromance comedy.
Yet the movie is by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, independent filmmakers mostly associated with the “mumblecore” movement — low-budget films with low-key, naturalistic dialogue.
Even though Segel and Helms definitely earn laughs in “Jeff,” the movie focuses as much on thoughtful themes as it does on silliness.
Segel stars as the title character, Jeff, who indeed lives at home, passing the time smoking pot in his mother’s basement. His mom (Susan Sarandon) calls him with a simple task: Buy wood glue and fix the kitchen window shutter.
But before he can leave the house, he receives a phone call: a wrong number asking for Kevin.
Jeff, a big fan of the movie “Signs,” keeps his eyes and ears open for ... anything. He climbs on the bus and spies a kid with “Kevin” written on his jersey. Jeff follows him, which leads to a round of misadventures.
Before long, he runs into his brother Pat (Helms), who, unlike Jeff, has married and moved out of the house. But his marriage is falling apart, and he believes his wife (a superb Judy Greer) may be cheating on him.
Jeff wants to help his uptight brother, but when more signs pop up, he’s powerless to resist.
Happily, the Duplass brothers — whose other films include “The Puffy Chair” and “Cyrus” — have a laid-back, matter-of-fact style that nicely meshes with the everything-is-connected theme and saves the story from becoming trite.
Segel and Helms generate friction with the old laid-back versus uptight comedy formula, but they also have a brotherly warmth that makes the clash interesting, even when it’s not funny.
But like so many comedy-dramas, “Jeff” doesn’t gracefully blend the two, possibly because its tone is too casual. Ultimately, as in many movies of this type, it lets the comedy slide in the final third, in favor of pure drama.
As a result, Segel and Helms don’t get to stretch as much as other comedians — such as Adam Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love” or Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” — have in dramatic roles.
But if the movie’s point is to promote openness, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” pleasantly does so.