Taking a five year backseat while the Duplass brothers donned their bigger studio-britches with Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home, it was finally time for The Do-Deca-Pentathlon to have its day in the sun at this year’s SXSW.
Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) play rivalrous brothers who grew up hyper-competing. It culminated in their own official twenty-five bout Olympics designed to determine which of the two ruled the proverbial school. The titular event being a chuckle-worthy misnomer itself and an echo of their naive past (as it would indeed translate to a Greek seventeen).
Flash-forward a good twenty years and we’re introduced to the overgrown man-children each sunk in the malaise of their late-thirties. You know, the age at which you bend down to greet your pet of choice and the kneecaps make a sound that resembles an ice cube tray being emptied?
Although cozily married to a lovely woman (Jennifer Lafleur) with whom he’s hatched a preteen child, Mark is doing his best to be the gentile suburban dad. But his appearance speaks volumes of discontentment; from the expanding waistline to his high blood pressure, and his fragile mental state, it’s clear he has yet to settle the score with his own brother. Jeremy’s no better off mind you: professional poker-player, unchecked ego, frosted tips, he might as well skip right ahead to tax evasion, clown college and stripper girlfriend. But far more revealing is how he crashes his brother’s birthday/family reunion with the bags he packed (under his eyes) and an axe to grind.
It’s during a small town mini-marathon that Jeremy carries out the initial ambush, up from behind the family midway through a brisk jog to hurl himself through the finish line in Cronenberg-esque body horror fashion. With skinned knees and elbows the brothers make their way back to mom’s place, capsized family in tow. Jeremy hunts down a forgotten VHS tape in his childhood bedroom, pops it in and sets his sights on junior versions of themselves at the height of their last competition. And thus he gets the bright idea to appeal to Mark’s unsettled issues and challenge him to a repeat of the fabled Do-Deca-Pentathlon. The only caveat being that this time it must be kept secret from the worried and judgmental eyes of their family.
Instead of playing out as fodder for mere physical laughs and “quick, hide!” secrecy gags (though it does both of those things well), the redux manages to embody their their mutual struggles and so much more. Mark is quite desperately searching for balance and self-respect while Jeremy longs for others’ respect. It duals as a battle for the affection of Mark’s son Hunter, who’s entering his rebellious teens and realistically drifting from his father. Soon enough their overwhelming need to compete begins absolutely encroaching on Mark’s marriage, simultaneously flushing his mental well-being down the shitter.
Amidst this pandemonium the Duplass Brothers find a surprising sense of emotion and resonance, due in part to the film’s insistence on expertly underplaying both its drama and laughs. But far more influential is their respect for the dignity of suburbia that few other filmmakers even bother trying to relate to anymore. It’s this respect for the genuine world and the people who live in it that somehow morphs The Do-Deca-Pentathlon into one of the greatest films ever made on the subject of brother-catharsis. While half a decade is a long time to wait, it was definitely worth it for the most earned, humane story they’ve ever told.