What if everything was connected, yet nothing could connect?

Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the new comedy from the Duplass Brothers, opens this week in limited release. It seeks to combine big ideas with a screwball premise, but misses on both the laughs and the theme.

Jeff (Jason Segel) is a stoned-out slacker who lives in his mother’s basement. He’s obsessed with the film Signs and firmly believes the everything in the universe is connected and that everything that comes into his life has a purpose.

On his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) birthday, he’s given the simple task of going to the Home Depot to buy wood glue so he can fix a broken shutter. Before he goes, though, he gets a wrong number dial from somebody asking for Kevin. He sees this as fate and begins following anything Kevin-related on a divergent path from his wood glue quest.

Eventually, these digressions lead him to running into his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who’s set to admonish him for wasting his life and failing to help their mother. His diatribe leads them into a series of misadventures that eventually find them seeing Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) ostensibly having an affair.

Jeff and Pat chase the philandering duo down, all while Jeff remains convinced that their discovering them was fate as foretold by his “Kevin” prophecy.

Meanwhile, in a storyline that relates neither structurally or thematically to the rest of the film, Jeff’s mother sits at her office corresponding with a secret admirer via instant messenger.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home structures itself around the most basic comedy premise there is: Give the hero a goal and have him follow a divergent path to reach that goal. The goal in this case is Jeff’s quest to give his life some meaning through assigning impact to a series of seemingly insignificant events.

The film aims high with this goal. It seeks to establish a sort of dignity in slackerdom: The idea that we’re all sort of just wandering until our purpose presents itself. It’s a noble thematic idea, but it fumbles in the execution.

The way it does this is twofold. Firstly, it plays to heavily on this idea for laughs. Jeff is really made to look like a fool early on in the film and his ideas seem utterly misguided. Why use the film ‘Signs’ as the basis for his belief system if we’re meant to take this guy seriously?

Secondly, the film is too obsessed with its idea. We’re told continuously throughout the film exactly what we’re supposed to be interpreting from it and what Jeff’s character is meant to represent. It never steps talking about that and, rather than tell a compelling story that furthers its theme, it instead tells a pretty bland and ordinary story that only finds meaning through its directly pointing out the perceived significance of happenstance.

Because the film is so full of itself, it forgets that it’s meant to entertain. The tone of the film is so empty and the characters so one-dimensional (pity the actors who do what they can with so little substance) that the story fails to be interesting at all. If it weren’t for the film repeatedly telling the audience how much what we’re watching is supposed to mean, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to pay attention at all. It doesn’t command our attention: It begs for it.

And never makes any real connection.