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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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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