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DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the Indie Gem “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon”

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

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Summer movie season is host to lots of big movies. Whether it’s the gigantic blockbusters like “The Avengers” or serious award-contending indies like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the films that come out during this time of year all feel a little more momentous. So it’s easy for a relatively small, low-budget affair to slip through the cracks, its pleasures lost amidst a crowded marketplace. Which is why I want to recommend you seek out “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” while you have the chance.

The warring-siblings comedy is the latest from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, who earlier this year released the surprisingly poignant “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” But in fact, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is an older film from them — it was completed after 2008’s “Baghead” and before the brothers’ transition to more polished, mainstream indies like “Cyrus.” As a result, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” almost feels like an outtake or side project from the Duplasses, a fun scribble that shouldn’t be taken too seriously but is nonetheless a must-see for the directors’ fans. But unlike a lot of side projects, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” isn’t overly self-indulgent. It’s actually quite a good little film.

The movie features two adult brothers, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who essentially stopped speaking to one another in their teens. The reason for their falling-out was the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, a 25-event competition they concocted in high school whose winner would be deemed the superior brother. The competition included everything from push-ups to arm-wrestling to holding your breath underwater, but the contest ended in a disputed tie, leaving no one the winner and forever driving a wedge between them. Years later, Mark and his family are visiting his mom when Jeremy shows up unannounced, in part because he wants to stage a new Do-Deca-Pentathlon. Mark’s wife (Jennifer Lafleur) forbids her husband to do it — he has to worry about stress — but Mark’s old competitive streak with his brother won’t go away. And so the contest begins anew.

With a running time of about 75 minutes, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is deceptively slight and boasts a rather obvious moral: Even as grownups, men sure act like children. But as the Duplass brothers have demonstrated throughout their career — which began with their terrific 2005 debut, “The Puffy Chair” — they’re quite skillful at taking a catchy premise and exploring it as deeply as they can, finding some unguarded emotion and unexpected truth beneath the obvious laughs. Much of that has to do with the brothers’ heavily improvisational style with their actors, which creates a loose, rough quality to their films that sometimes can feel amateurish but often results in some wonderfully lived-in moments between the characters. (“They don’t always look beautiful, they don’t always sound beautiful,” Mark Duplass recently said about his and Jay’s films, “but if we try to keep an organic performance that’s kind of truthful and funny and sad, then people tend to connect to it.”) With its zooming handheld camera and cheapo production values, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” feels thrown together, but its careful examination of male discontent is strung together so precisely that the movie’s a small little marvel of concise storytelling.

Which isn’t to say that “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” isn’t also very funny. On one level, this comedy is simply about two overgrown kids whose childhood competitiveness has stunted their emotional development. Zissis as the conflicted family man and Kelly as the cocky poker-playing bachelor are portraying easily identifiable male types, and both actors do an excellent job exuding all the clichés of their particular type. But the secret to the success of “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is that neither the actors nor the filmmakers hint at the fact that they know that Mark and Jeremy are behaving ridiculously. Rather, the characters’ silly competition is treated pretty seriously, which makes their struggle funnier but also sadder. In the films that the Duplasses have made since “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” — “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” — they have further satirized male rivalry, but neither of those movies are as cutting as this one in showing how competitiveness fuels men but also corrodes them. You get the sense that the Duplass brothers know in their hearts that their characters are hopelessly immature. But you also get the sense that the filmmakers understand their characters in a way that probably makes even them uncomfortable.

“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” opened in limited released on July 6 and will be expanding from there. But even if you can’t see it in a theater, it’s currently available on demand through some cable companies and iTunes. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t recommend watching a film at home if you can see it on the big screen, but with its lo-fi vibe, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” has an intimacy that should translate just fine to your home theater. Plus, if you end up identifying a little too strongly with Mark and Jeremy’s plight, it might be better to experience that harsh realization from the safety of your own couch.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.