Sometimes there are movies that you should by all rights hate, but despite yourself you end up liking. The latest offering from Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus) has a minimally scripted plot and a main character that believes in cosmic harmony and that “everything happens for a reason” (traits which would usually inspire bouts of psychotic rage) but it’s nevertheless a charming, likeable and surprisingly touching oddball comedy.
Jason Segel is 30-year-old man-child stoner Jeff, who lives in his mother’s basement. After partaking of wee bit too many happy nettles and repeatedly watching M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, he finds himself ruminating about fate and destiny.
When he receives a threatening phone call from a wrong number asking for Kevin, he becomes convinced that the name has some kind of significance (“What if there are no wrong numbers?” he muses) and impulsively follows anything that seems related whether it’s a teenager with a basketball shirt that has “Kevin” on the back or a truck with “Kevin” written on the side.
His mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is determined to get him out of the house and gives him an errand to run, but he instead bumps into his older brother Pat (El Helms) and the two begin a spot of amateur sleuthing to determine if Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) is having an affair. Meanwhile Sharon has her own mystery to unravel as she’s recently received a message from a secret admirer and together with her best friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) is determined to puzzle it out.
Segel is a likeable lead who can play this kind of character in his sleep, so Jeff’s constant befuddlement and conclusion-jumping is appealing rather than irritating. He’s got great chemistry with Ed Helms, cast against type as a posturing arrogant wannabe alpha-male, and together they come up with some hilarious lines as well as some surprisingly tender heart-to-hearts.
Unfortunately, the deliberately sketchy plot, much like its protagonist, wanders without any particular focus and so we’re often left with engaging characters that feel like they have very little to do. It’s a movie driven by whimsical coincidences but as it’s constantly self-aware and plays this up for laughs, it never becomes grating and consequently the deus ex machina finale which sees every character assembled on a bridge is actually touching and poignant rather offensively cornball.
Still, there is a persistent frustration that it never gains any particular traction and its short running time of 86 minutes which still leaves Susan Sarandon woefully underused does feel rather it was a short stretched a little too much to make it feature length.