“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” (2012)
by A.J. Hakari
As I write this, Mark and Jay Duplass are probably shooting their next movie, scripting another, and figuring out the catering for the one after that. In short, they’ve made a lot of films in the past couple years, most of which I haven’t seen (though Jeff, Who Lives at Home was solid), but there’s still something to admire about an output like theirs. The brothers have been called heralds of the mumblecore comedy, a fairly appropriate label after witnessing the deadpan manner in which their latest picture, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, assembles its dialogue. Like Jeff, this too concerns childish grudges still held by two adult men, though with a screenplay that doesn’t test how much schmaltz and slacker wisdom you can tolerate in one sitting, its message about growing the hell up already comes through much more naturally.
Ever since a dark day in 1990, siblings Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) have barely spoken to each other. It was the day on which the Do-Deca-Pentathlon — their own personal, 25-event competition to crown the better brother — was interrupted before the victor could be declared. Years later, resentment has driven them their separate ways, with Mark becoming a family man and Jeremy a pseudo-slacker who gets by on his poker winnings. But when the whole clan ends up getting together for Mark’s birthday, Jeremy’s plenty happy to bring up the unfinished Do-Deca, prodding his brother into a new tournament that may open some new wounds instead of addressing the ones it’s supposed to mend.
My gag reflex starts itching whenever Hollywood cranks out another sibling rivalry farce into theaters. These preach all about brotherhood, togetherness, and other Hallmark hooey, but their morals hardly seem sincere when tacked on after 90 minutes of unbearable pratfalls and slapstick. Thus, I don’t think the average schmoe who sang the praises of Jack and Jill will be yukking it up too much with The Do-Deca-Pentathlon. It’s a comedy in the sense that it’s obvious from the get-go that Jeremy and Mark are nimrods for taking a childhood game way too seriously. Even the events themselves are nothing elaborate, just particularly heated rounds of skeeball, laser tag, arm wrestling, and the like. But the rift the competition causes presently just as when they were kids remains in focus, so while you won’t bust a gut watching the guys out-jog one another, you’re always aware that they really have some issues to work out.
At a darned slim 76 minutes, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon mercifully spares us and the characters a prolonged process of realizing that being an emotionally-stunted man-child is a bad thing. But the Duplasses never look down on their leads, acknowledging that they’re better off letting the past alone but sympathizing with what drives them to do the opposite anyway. Kelly and Zissis play off of each other well, and, most importantly, make a convincing pair of brothers with plenty of shared jealousy to be relieved. Mark and Jeremy’s latest spat shows a good deal about their character, just as Mark’s wife (Jennifer Lafleur) comes across as a nagging spouse at first but gradually reveals valid concerns for wanting them to stop the Do-Deca. All of this is accomplished with nary a contrived moment on behalf of the Duplasses, who earn your interest and emotional investment without having to have the story repeatedly demand it.
So wry is the humor in The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, you wouldn’t be blamed for not laughing that much or picking up its subtleties on your initial viewing. But it has its share of smirks, and it’s nice to see a comedy that doesn’t celebrate being an obnoxious chunkhead with a bad case of arrested development. I’m not that tempted to delve further into the Duplass’ filmography, but after this production, I’ll keep them in mind the next time I have a hankering for a nice, muted indie flick.