Jason Segel plays Jeff in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." (Paramount Pictures )
The addled but amiable comedy of "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" messes around with the "out of the mouths of babes" idea of wisdom coming from innocents. The babe in this case is a 30-year-old pothead/man-child named Jeff, played by the also amiable Jason Segel, who seems to be staking his claim on just about any sweet, clueless character that comes along. He should be more discriminating.
Jeff does indeed still live at home, in his mom's basement, drawing most of his murky understanding of the ways of the world from M. Night Shyamalan's spooky film "Signs." Mom (Susan Sarandon) is fed up and enlists Jeff's estranged brother Pat (Ed Helms) to get him off the couch and reengaged in life.
Occasionally, and weirdly, there will be a good point in Jeff's meandering musings. That isn't much to hang a hat on, but filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass decide to anyway. The writing-directing brothers are usually interested in the small stuff of everyday, but perhaps they've gone a little too small here.
This slight story unfolds in Baton Rouge, La., but it is really set in a state of malaise similar to the one that the Duplass brothers cast over "Cyrus" in such splendid fashion (that 2010 film was about an entrenched son trying to derail his mom's romantic prospects). "Jeff" is looser all around, with a narrative that never reaches the level of destructive cleverness in "Cyrus."
The heart of the story, and Jeff's general philosophy, is the interconnectedness of life — that there is always a reason; nothing is random. It's kicked into high gear by a phone call that Jeff deliberates over, then decides to answer. It's a wrong number that will ripple through his day.
His brother Pat is having his own crises — things with the wife (Judy Greer) are at a breaking point and the sports car he thought would put the zip back in his life isn't really working out. And Mom is unsettled too — there's a "secret admirer" who has surfaced at work and there's her frustration with Jeff at home.
The twists and turns of the day bring out the best and worst in all the people involved, and that seems to be the reason for the rambling around the characters do.
Segel tries to work his big-lovable-lug magic, which served him well in "The Muppets" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." But it feels a little lethargic this go-round. Helms, on the other hand, is too tightly wound as Pat, which makes empathy for his plight hard to come by. Greer and her tears, which flowed so effortlessly in "The Descendants," are mostly wasted.
If, like Jeff, you keep your expectations seriously in check, the film is an amusing slice of several ordinary lives. But in the end, the movie — like its lead — feels a little too aimless, then a little too obvious. As amiable as Jeff is, it may not be enough.