Reviewing the new Duplass Brothers movie ‘The Do-Deca-Pentathlon’ is an unusual experience, since it’s important to put it in the proper historical context. This is not technically Jay and Mark’s newest flick, as they made it between ‘Baghead’ and ‘Cyrus’. I say that up front because, well…anyone who sees this and doesn’t know that might wonder if the Duplass boys have taken a step back. This is much more in line with ‘The Puffy Chair’ or ‘Baghead’, their first two films and seminal projects in the Mumblecore movement (even if they chafe at being given a label like that), than it is with their more polished recent works ‘Cyrus’ and ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’ (though I’d argue they’re now doing their best work with these slightly bigger budgets). Here with ‘The Do-Deca-Pentathlon’, we’re basically just getting an observational dramedy about grown men acting like children. It’s an interesting take on the middle class male ego that both seems to approve and disapprove of the actions in the movie. The film is likable and another good example of the filmmakers’ auteurist choices, but it’s more forgettable than usual, considering how memorable their works usually are. The movie opens this Friday in limited release, and it’ll be up to you to decide whether to see it or not.
Brothers Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) used to be close, but in the past decade or two, they’ve become estranged. The cause of this? Well, it’s the contested results of a contest known as “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” (hence the title), a 25 event family Olympics that they engaged in as teens. During the final event, which would have crowned the champion, their father intervened and Jeremy was declared the winner, something Mark has never gotten over. He’s been in therapy and his wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) works hard to keep him calm and uncompetitive, but all of that is threatened during a birthday weekend at the home of his mother Alice (Julie Vorus) when Jeremy crashes the party. He wants to bring back the contest, and settle things once and for all. No one except Mark’s son (Reid Williams) is in favor of this, so the guys have to compete in secret. As the events progress (things like pool and arm-wrestling, etc), the normally subdued Mark begins to regress back to childlike tantrums and the immature Jeremy begins to take over the mantle of big brother. Who will win the games this time? Does it even matter? These are the questions that Jay and Mark Duplass put forward, though they’re most interested in gazing at the male ego from some interesting angles.
The acting isn’t anything to write home about for me (I would have greatly preferred is Mark Duplass had given himself one of the main roles, likely Jeremy, but that’s neither here nor there), but they all properly serve the purpose of the flick. Steve Zissis is a sympathetic character, walking the line between making Mark a loser and making him just a damaged individual. He never brings that extra bit to the role, especially when transitioning to his darker side, but he’s probably exactly what the Duplass boys wanted. As for Mark Kelly, he fares slightly better after being pretty annoying for the first half of the movie. His shift to the more responsible sibling is a bit abrupt, but it works. As for the women, both Jennifer Lafleur and Julie Vorus are fine, but the former is playing a bit of a stock character and the latter is mostly just in the background. Reid Williams pretty much only has to watch the events and root the guys on, but there’s nothing wrong with his performance. As I mentioned above, I only with that Mark Duplass himself had been in it. That would have been a way to elevate the work.
Jay and Mark Duplass have opened up their filmmaking a lot the past few years, but here they’re still operating on a minuscule scale. I know some don’t care for their somewhat random zooms and shot selection, but I think it gives the film a personality. The film is well paced, and has a welcome runtime of just under an hour and twenty minutes (though a Duplass Brothers movie never overstays its welcome). Their script is a bit looser than usual, even for them, and that’s where my issue lies with it. The movie winds up not really being about anything, and I know they’re capable of more than that. This plot wasn’t exactly going to ever amount to an epic film, but I can’t help wishing they did a bit more with it.
‘The Do-Deca-Pentahlon’ is scrappy and well-intentioned, but it just never fully captivates you like I know a film by the Brothers Duplass can. I certainly enjoyed it for the most part, but I’m held back in fully recommending it due to the knowledge that most people won’t really care for it. If you are a fan of the filmmakers, then you’re likely to be interested…otherwise, probably not so much. It opens later this week, so give it a shot if you’re inclined to do so (and if this early review hasn’t inadvertently scared you off), but just remember that this is only coming out now for a reason.
Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: Jay and Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon