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Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) are two bickering brothers,
who have had a contentiously violent relationship their entire lives.
In an effort to see who can rightfully dub himself "the better
brother," they concocted an event called "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" when
they were young, and held twenty-five events to see who could win more
and earn the title. During the "underwater challenge," the boys'
grandfather thought they were drowning and his interference pulled the
plug on the event, which was never finished.
Since then, they have been estranged, until the boys' mother, Alice (Julie Vorus), holds a party for Mark's birthday where Jeremy is invited and surprisingly shows up. Both men, now in their early thirties, have gone on to become modestly successful. Jeremy, who is still single, lives off of poker tournaments he frequently plays, and Mark is married to the lovely Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), with their only son (Reid Williams).
Shortly after his arrival, Jeremy pens a contract, which, when signed by both brothers, okays them to partake in a revival of "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" idea, where they start all twenty-five events over again from scratch. The stakes, if there were any, remain the same, along with the title, and it shows that these brothers haven't forgot about the "importance" of a sophomoric title or the compelling feeling they get from winning and triumphing over the other sibling. That is their way of saying "I love you." In order to keep quiet about the event, the brothers try all they possibly can to hide their events from their family, especially Stephanie, who is sick of the childish idea. Mark has been troubled quite a bit in his past, with high anxiety and psychiatric treatment, that begin to come forth when the event starts. He is not in proper shape to be doing this event. In fact, neither of them are. They are far too old for childish activities.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon was written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, who have sort of pioneered the genre of mumblecore, where amateur actors immerse themselves into humanly flawed characters, accompanied with naturalistic dialog and recognizable cinematography. They brothers continue with their theme or sibling disconnect, which was the main point of focus with their last feature, the wonderful and underrated Jeff, Who Lives at Home. This is their return to mumblecore, by definition, where as their two previous features included rather mainstream actors, yet still kept the rules of the genre in place - a featured bonus I hope they continue to do.
The only problem I can see is the same one I found with their two most recent efforts; the film's reliance on dead in the water style. The Duplass brothers love to utilize quick camera zooms during certain shots, to either put emphasis on something or just make it more apparent to the viewer. It's a distractingly unnecessary addition that leaves a lot to be desired. The brothers already have their own style. They don't need to perpetuate it even more than they already have.
The picture is concise at only seventy-six minutes, and its leads have the chemistry and the charm to carry the picture all the way through (especially Zissis, who has worked with Jay and Mark since their second feature, Baghead). The Do-Deca-Pentathlon illustrates a quirky and childish game, and the characters involved, with heart and soul, never condescending to the level of parody or ignorance that would've resulted in a cheaply made independent film. The Duplass brothers are too smart to fall in that territory.
Starring: Mark Kelly, Steve Zissis, Jennifer Lafleur, Julie Vorus, and Reid Williams. Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass.
Jay and Mark Duplass get back to their really, really indie roots with
"The Do-Deca-Pentathlon," a low-budget comedy centered on the
competitive tension between brothers. It's not exactly new territory
for the mumblecore kings, but it shows they can still be effective
filmmakers with a basic story and even more basic production quality.
Just as they did with "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" the year prior, the Duplasses further exploit the idea that siblings, especially brothers close in age, never stop competing, or in the case of characters Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly), never stop holding grudges that assure sibling rivalry endures.
Mark, his wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) and son Hunter (Reid Williams) visit Mark's mother (Julie Vorus) for his birthday, but only after they've been assured that his estranged brother Jeremy, a transient professional poker player, won't be there. But Jeremy figures it out, arriving just in time to provoke his brother into racing him in the town's annual 5K run. Jeremy's presence brings out the worst in Mark, whose doctors have told him to take it easy, but instead of listening to his wife, Mark and Jeremy secretly agree to reignite a competition they held in their teens called the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, a series of 25 physical events that ultimately determines the better brother, a tournament that ended in controversy about 20 years ago.
In the hands of a Hollywood-hired screenwriter, this would be a physical comedy in which the winner would probably be determined in the final event, with history repeating itself in some way just before it all ends, but if you know the Duplass Brothers, you're not going to get that formula at all. They're experts at setting up situational comedy potential and then ignoring it, focusing instead on the relationship dynamics that arise from would-be shenanigans.
You'll immediately notice "Do-Deca" features no stars or even slightly known quantities, and the sound quality is unusually poor. Considering this comes from the guys who made the aforementioned "Jeff" as well as "Cyrus" starring Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, you have to assume the choice to strip everything down was intentional, because the money/equipment and interest from big actors would have been there if they wanted it. Consequently, you feel like you're watching real people dealing with a real conflict, even if most grown-up brothers wouldn't engage in such childish antics.
The acting quality doesn't take much of a hit in spite of the no-name cast. It does, however, take a bit of time for the authenticity of the performances to kick in. Zissis and Kelly do an excellent job in the film's home stretch, balancing characters with animalistic, childish instincts who also possess adult-like emotions and insights as evidenced by the final half hour of the movie. Sure, it would be tough for anyone to take their antics too seriously, but the montage that depicts their afternoon of competing doesn't entirely spoil the moments when the script strives for some emotional depth.
Zissis' Mark is a definite balancing act as he endures a really wild ride for such a short movie. He starts out as the voice of reason, the man who cannot be provoked by his bachelor brother, and then he loses total control. He becomes blinded by a lust for competition and ends up taking it way too seriously.
The Duplasses help ground Mark through his relationship with his wife. He lies to Stephanie because he knows he'll never get her approval and support in awakening the competitive beast inside of him, so like men often do, he refuses to confront her about it and tries to work around her even though it's painfully obvious no one in this movie is pulling wool over anyone's eyes. It's tough to understand how Mark could be so caught up in the Do-Deca that he can't see what was important to him just a couple days ago, but the film strikes enough of a realistic nerve to avoid falling apart.
Although the film deserves praise for being so anti-formula, you can't help but feel a bit cheated by the lack of attention given to the tournament. It could've felt a little more vital to the movie than it ends up being without getting too cliché. That said, "Do-Deca" boasts the best laser tag scene ever committed to film.
"The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" proves that without a single layer of glitz, Jay and Mark Duplass can capture family relationship dynamics that ought to resonate with everyone. People looking for something a little more comfortable are bound to be disappointed by the film's lack of adherence to the Hollywood guidebook, but there's no denying that the Duplass Brothers have a keener understanding that almost anyone of good storytelling when it involves family.
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It is the mundane, every day, ordinariness of the Duplass Brothers's (Jay and Mark) films that make them the respected indie-film directors that they are today. Their films -- Cyrus, The Puffy Chair, Baghead and Jeff, Who Lives at Home -- are all solidly grounded pieces of work in a slightly warped reality. This is the Duplass selling point ... one I have allowed myself to enjoy with each of their films (to varying degrees). It is only "slightly-warped" because 85% of their film is realistic and the film-making duo takes one element of normalcy and amplifies it beyond belief ... here they do so with two ultra-competitive brothers. While many siblings compete with one another -- the mere title of this film -- implies that that these two take it over the top with a competition of 25 events to one-up the other. We don't get to see all of them here; but the brothers compete ... much to the chagrin of the wife of one of them (the other is un-married -- Surprise!) who has set up a weekend birthday party for her husband whom her brother-in-law infiltrates and causes the steady-hubby to go rogue. There are laughs and smiles to be had here -- like all of the Duplass films -- but there are also uncomfortable moments of real-ness which make the films work on a base-line of reality. I appreciate what these guys do. They celebrate the mundane of our everyday lives but also give it a slight twist to make something a bit more interesting. The film is quite short (under an hour and a half) and I wish it had carried out a bit further ... I won't get into the why here. This isn't a movie that will win numerous awards; but it is a pleasant way to pass some time.
Two brothers (Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis) compete in their own private
What is the point of this film? I am not sure -- the struggle of two brothers, a special kind of love, the dissolution of a marriage (a theme explored in "Jeff Who Lives at Home")... which is the point? Are any of these the point?
I did not get a deeper meaning out of this film, so if there is one it passed me by and will have to wait for a second viewing. But I definitely appreciated the humor, and the competition, and the morality (or lack thereof) of it all. And I also appreciate that, unlike "Jeff", this film does not rely on big name actors and still gets the story out just as well. It may suffer some publicity, but those who watch it will not be let down.
the reviewers loved this one roving camera "The Do-Deca Pentathalon" is
a movie that some of the professional reviewers adored. I remember
Leonard Maltin in particular talking about how great this indie film
was, so I thought I should give it a try.
The film was written and directed by the Duplass brothers--though, uncharacteristically, Mark Duplass does not act in the film (like he frequently does in their films). Instead, Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis star in this movie about competitiveness between brothers gone awry. It seems that Jeremy and Mark have not gotten along for years. Much of it is because they are just too competitive between each other--and Jeremy is pushing his brother to compete with him in a so-called 'do-deca pentathlon'--a series of 20 events to determine who is the best once and for all. However, Mark's wife is 100% against this competition because it brings out the worst in them, so when they finally agree, they must do these stupid little sporting events on the sly. What happens next? See the film.
Like many indie films, the picture was shot with an unsteady cam. Why filmmakers think a jerky picture is good is beyond me--or why an indie MUST be shot this way is REALLY beyond me. All I know is that it made me feel motion sick after a while and was distracting. As far as the content goes, I assumed (incorrectly) that this was some sort of comedy. Instead, it's a rather simple film about people--and on that level it was quite enjoyable. Did I see it as a 'hidden gem' like some? Nah. But it's enjoyable and worth seeing. If only it didn't have that $^%& roving camera!
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