Title: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon
Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring: Mark Kelly, Steve Zissis, Jennifer Lafleur, Reid Williams, Julie Vorus
Testosteronized rivalry has informed the cinematic canon of the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, in films like “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” but that area of inquiry actually has its roots in “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” a fun little bauble they shot in 2008 as their third feature film, after “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” and before those two aforementioned movies. Buzzing with a low-fi honesty and intimacy, the film exudes a charming quality of realness and small, to-scale catharsis that mark it as a treat indie film fans should definitely seek out.
Based loosely on a pair of ultra-competitive brothers who grew up down the street from the Duplasses, the film centers on Mark (Steve Zissis), a schlubby thirtysomething guy who’s visiting his mom (Julie Vorus) with his family when his estranged brother, Jeremy (Mark Kelly), shows up. The pair, once close, have basically stopped speaking to one another as the result of a massive, three-day, 25-event athletic competition as teenagers that ended in a disputed tie (their underwater breath-holding contest was interrupted). Egged on by Jeremy’s sniping and clucking dismissal, Mark finds his competitive impulses re-awakened. Even though his wife (Jennifer Lafleur), worried about his health and stress levels, tries to limit Mark’s contact with Jeremy, the duo conspire to hold a clandestine rematch, and settle the matter of brotherly superiority once and for all.
As a comedy of men behaving badly, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is a lot of fun. Zissis and Kelly needle each other in fine fashion, and the Duplass brothers capture in smart, shorthand strokes how self-esteem can get caught up in sibling rivalry, and battles for parental attention. But the movie is also about awakened fraternal bonding. While the events — everything from pool and ping-pong to arm-wrestling and basketball — offer up the chance for a few fun little set pieces, the Duplass brothers’ film (a brisk, focused and unfussy domestic snapshot, at only 75 minutes) is mostly concerned with assaying masculine norms and methods of communication and respect. There’s a lot of recognizable truth here, amidst the considerable silliness.
Written by: Brent Simon