Sunday, July 1, 2012

Duplass brothers' short, smart DO-DECA-PENTATHLON brings mumblecore full circle

Like The Puffy Chair on steroids, the newest film from those ubiquitous Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, seems in one sense to have brought their mumblecore experience full circle. In the decade since the arrival of m'core (and the few months since its critically-declared demise), these two brothers have gone on to make several more m'core movies and then bring their own distinctive brand of it to (or near) mainstream with films such as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Not to mention the burgeoning acting career of Mark, who has graced a number of films of late -- from Darling Companion to Your Sister's Sister and Safety Not Guaranteed with perfor-mances good enough to indicate a possible second large career.

Now, with the advent of THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON, the two film-making brothers -- shown above, with Mark on the left (and, look, there room for you to squeeze in between them!) -- are back at the mumblecore spring. And rather than showing it to be dry, they prove it's bubbling up a gusher of fresh water. Instead of the often passive protagonists found in so much of the m'core genre, these writers/directors give us a pair of brothers (nothing autobiographical here, I am sure), who, since childhood, have not stopped competing -- their most recent foray into the fray having led to an estrangement that has gone on for some time.

Now, during a birthday-centered family reunion (to which one brother has noticeably been uninvited but shows up anyway), this competition flares again -- with results that are funny, sad and, yes, sentimental, but, thank goodness, also short and sweet.

What makes this movie so much different from so much else in the m'core archive is its fraught situation (time is very limited) and the utter insistence of the two guys that they will/must finish this com-petition. All this gives the movie a forward thrust unlike any other m'core I can remember. (Even the in bro's would-be mystery thriller Baghead, there was quite a sense of dawdling to be observed.)

These filmmakers have clearly been learning on the job, for they now waste no time before pushing us into the midst of things and getting their very capable cast cracking with more than able performances. The roles of the brother are of course key here, and as Mark, the one who is now married and gone somewhat to seed (and fat), Steve Zissis, above, is a consistent delight.

As his also seedy, but a lot sexier, brother Jeremy, Mark Kelly (above) proves a perfect foil for Zissis, and together they make the film consistently enjoyable. Supporting roles are just that, but the rest of the cast does a bang-up job of providing that support -- especially Jennifer Lafleur (below, right) as the wife, Julie Vorus as the pair's mother, and newcomer Reid Williams (evidently not on the IMDB yet) as son and nephew to the bros.

As filmmakers, the Duplass brothers keep growing. Their choice of incident and how to frame same grows ever smarter (their Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is also terrific in this regard -- despite the additional task of having to keep several plot balls in the air simultaneously). They still feel the necessity to do that odd zoom-in thing, with the camera sort of hiccuping as it moves. This loony zoom is strange, calling undue attention to itself, but it's no deal-breaker. (Maybe they see this camera move as some kind of signature? Or perhaps it's just an accident?) If I ever get the chance to interview the pair, that'll be my first topic of discussion.

Meanwhile, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, 78 minutes, from Red Flag Releasing and Fox Searchlight, opens this coming Friday, July 6, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and in Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Pasadena Playhouse 7.

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