Directing brothers Jay and Mark Duplass have a very casual style of filmmaking. Along with a loosely structured script, they often film a scene with multiple cameras to allow their actors the freedom to find the best way to play the moment.
Their communal style worked in "Cyrus" because it featured strong performances by Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly as two men battling for the attention of one woman. The actors were so strong, and generated so much tension, watching them verbally spar was compelling.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home," the latest offering from the siblings, doesn't work as well because Jason Segel and Ed Helms bring little energy to their work. It's like watching two men sharing their disjointed thoughts as they are on the verge of nodding off to sleep.
This passive approach is OK with Segel's character. His Jeff, a middle-aged loser who still lives with his mother, has become obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan film "Signs" and is waiting for the cosmos to tell him his destiny. He takes a wrong number telephone call as that sign. At the same time, his brother, Pat (Helms), is dealing with a marriage that is falling apart. His attempts to find out about his wife's cheating ways and Jeff's quest to find out what the call is all about have them continually cross paths.
The problem is the interaction between the brothers is so low-key, there are never any emotional sparks. Segel's lumbering performance either needed to be more frantic or kidlike. Instead, it's a middle-of-the-road effort that neither makes us hate nor like him. Pat is supposed to be emotionally clueless, but Helms pulls back so much it's as if he's more of an observer than a participant.