Jay and Mark Duplass don’t really go dark or deep with their movies. Most of their films look at a family dynamic by introducing a strange but not outlandish hook, and then let the performances and heartwarming story carry the day. Their latest film, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, is no different. While the movie rarely challenges the audience and slightly stumbles on a forced conflict using a stock character, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is cute and funny and another nice addition to the Duplass’ filmography.
Mark (Steve Zissis) and his estranged brother Jeremy (Mark Kelly) have become depressed with their current lifestyles. Mark loves his wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) and son (Reid Williams), and Jeremy is a successful poker player, but the joy has somehow vanished from the brothers’ lives. A few days before Mark’s birthday, Jeremy decides to drop in on his family and goads Mark into a new Do-Deca-Pentathlon. This doesn’t sit too well with Stephanie, who wants Mark to follow his doctors’ advice and keep stress to a minimum. Mark is eventually forced into a conflict between appeasing his wife and re-connecting with his brother.
The relationship between Mark and Jeremy is where Do-Deca draws its strength. Their scenes have all the comedy and genuine emotion that makes the movie worth watching. The Duplasses, Zissis, and Kelly all work together to make the competition scenes contain humor and character development, and give the movie its forward momentum. Zissis and Kelly play wonderfully off each other throughout the picture, and Zissis in particular does a great job of investing his performance into the little moments like when he’s talking about his fat foot. While there’s no doubt to where the story is going and how the brothers will change and grow over the course of the picture, the male leads bring an authenticity that adequately blunts the plot’s predictability.
The Duplass Brothers tend to give their actors plenty of room to maneuver, but they box in Lafleur in by giving her the boring, irritating character of Nagging Wife™. The movie tries to ground Stephanie by making her conflict with Mark stem from her concern over his mental health, but her support always comes off as counterproductive. Having her be concerned for her husband’s happiness and only making him more miserable in the process makes Stephanie come off as selfish, arrogant, and incompetent. Lafleur stops us from hating Stephanie, but the Duplass should have found a better way to use the character and not resorted to employing a tired stereotype.
Jay and Mark Duplass’ movies usually work because they tend to go so small that generic characters don’t even seem to fit, and it’s a bit of a surprise that one was able to sneak into The Do-Deca-Pentathlon. Like their other movies, the low-key story, characters, and unscripted dialogue keeps the film feeling loose and natural albeit slight and somewhat disposable. At some point, the Duplass formula will stop working, and audiences will eventually begin to demand something more, but The Do-Deca-Penathlon is enjoyable enough to keep them content for the time being.
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