We’re so used to the archetype of the arrogant Hollywood star — morbidly curious about accounts of Russell Crowe throwing his phone at the staff, or Jeremy Piven quitting a Broadway show without any remorse – that we’re stymied by the current trend of honest-to-God nice guys moving up to the A-list. Jason Segel stars in Jeff, Who Lives At Home (out today) as the titular man-child stuck in his basement because of inaction and a vague childhood tragedy, but over the course of a day in his life, we learn that despite his stagnating life he cares about his estranged family members and even strangers.
Just as Jeff is a genuinely good — if misguided — guy, writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass sought that same kindheartedness over marquee talent in locating their star. In the film’s production notes, Jay is quoted as saying,
“Mark and I started with the philosophy that we only want to work with people who are incredibly nice, and who are excited to try our sort of unconventional, unorthodox way of working.”
About their ultimate choice, they said, “Jason Segel has a huge heart, and he’s a very magical and special person.” The message is clear: Jason puts in the hard work on this meandering, whimsical film, and he reaps the benefits of critical acclaim. Even if the film is ultimately brushed aside, critics and fans will recall Jason’s successful dramatic debut.
And honestly? Jason makes the movie. I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t gotten a screening invite, but I’m so glad I did. More movies should be structured like this: Taking place over just one day, featuring a small, talented cast, and having a clear dramatic arc that still surprises you in the end. No flashy action sequences or convoluted romantic-comedy misunderstandings. My experience with Jeff, Who Lives At Home was… nice.
This “nice, hardworking guy” narrative extends to Jason’s career as a whole. Consider his The Muppets project, which he slaved over for years, writing and acting until it came to theaters and charmed audiences with its mix of nostalgia and modern references. This humility comes from his acknowledgment that he may not always be Hollywood’s first choice for leading man, he says. With that perspective in mind, he’d rather focus on how people remember him:
“I have one goal, and it’s to be nice in this world. I don’t really care that I’m famous. I’m really happy that I’m successful and all that. But we’re all going to die and all that’s going to be left is whether you were nice or not. I’m pretty happy that if you ask people ‘What do you think of Segel?’ they’ll say, ‘He’s pretty nice.’”