Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
In 1990, brothers Jeremy and Mark created the “Do-Deca Pentathlon,” a 25-game event that would definitively decide which of the two was the superior sibling. But thanks to interference from a well-intentioned adult, the event ended prematurely without a victor. This result, one that Mark and Jeremy both disagree with (each thinks they were going to win), creates a rift between the two brothers and as the years go by, Jeremy and Mark became more and more estranged to the point of barely even talking. Mark (Steve Zissis) has overcome his psychological problems from childhood to settle in the suburbs with his wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lefleur) and son Hunter (Reid Williams), while Jeremy (Mark Kelly) is still single and makes a living playing poker in Las Vegas. When Jeremy makes a surprise appearance at Mark’s for his birthday weekend, the old wounds of the Do-Deca-Pentathlon are reopened and Jeremy proposes that the game start anew to finally settle this 22 year argument. Mark reluctantly agrees and the game is back on, just so long as they can keep it a secret from Stephanie and their mother Alice (Julie Vorus). But soon enough, restarting the Do-Deca-Pentathlon begins to take a toll on both Mark’s life and his psychological state.
Running a short 77 minutes, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is a quick and simple story about the dynamics of sibling rivalries and more importantly their far-reaching consequences. But even though it’s a thin movie, it’s a sweet one, and writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass effectively tell a story that will resonate with anyone who’s ever been in a rivalry with their brother or sister (meaning pretty much anyone with a brother or sister). The two leads, Zissis and Kelly, have great sibling chemistry together and their relationship feels as real and honest as their individual characters. But it’s the character of Mark that truly takes center stage here, and provides the more fascinating story from his psychological problems stemming from his childhood rivalry, to his strained relationship with Stephanie whose attempts to shield him from any trauma makes him feel emasculated, to even his relationship with his young son Hunter who sees his passive persona for the fake that it is. When Mark slowly begins to lose it due to the Pentathlon, Zissis kicks into another gear and has a powerful scene late into the movie, simultaneously scary and heartbreaking.
As with other Duplass productions, the shooting style can irritate. While the look itself didn’t bother me — it helped make the movie feel more realistic — they also would zoom in on the faces of the characters at random intervals. After the first couple of times, this only causes one to be taken out of the film. There’s also a subtle shakiness to it all as well; it’s nothing like a Cloverfield, but it was very noticeable and at times distracting. Billed as a comedy of sorts, it was unexpected that The Do-Deca-Pentathlon isn’t all that funny; outside of the first competition between Mark and Jeremy that takes place during an annual “fun run”, don’t expect a laugh riot here.
Luckily, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon has enough going for it that it makes the awkward camerawork and the lack of comedy easily forgivable. The movie is a quick and effective story featuring charming and honest characters with honest relationships. Zissis and Kelly are tremendous both individually and together, with Zissis especially getting some quality moments. The rest of the cast measures up as well, and although it has a short runtime, it feels like the right amount to tell the story without any of the padding that would have inevitably been included had this been a movie produced by a major studio. The Duplass’ have created one of the better movies dealing with sibling rivalry that I can remember and it’s worth seeking out, especially if you’ve been involved in/affected by a sibling rivalry yourself. Let’s just hope you don’t identify too much with it, or else you’re in for years of psychological counseling.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is currently playing in NY/LA and is available on VOD.
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