The Do-Deca-Pentathlon Review


Relatable characters, simple set-ups, deceptively complex emotions—these are calling cards of Jay and Mark Duplass, and those settling in to watch their latest, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, should recognize these trademarks without much difficulty.

It’s Mark’s (Steve Zissis) birthday, and he and his family are flying to his mother’s house for a party. Mark’s estranged brother, Jeremy (Mark Kelly), shows up uninvited to poke and prod at his brother a bit over the source of their estrangement—the Do-Deca-Pentathlon. In 1990, the two competed against each other in this series of 25 events to determine who was the better man. It ended in controversy, and while they’ve spoken since, their relationship remains irreparable.

Mark and his wife, Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), consider leaving, but after an oddly civil game of late-night pool with his brother, Mark decides he’s mature enough to not only stay, but also try his hand at another Do-Deca. It won’t be just any Do-Deca, however; It must be a secret Do-Deca because Stephanie doesn’t think the intense competition between the two brothers is remotely healthy.

Secret Do-Decas, shlubby brothers arguing over ping-pong—it’s understandable to think The Do-Deca-Pentathlon might be another low-budget comedy filled with petty and irritating characters. The Duplasses’ screenplay is tongue-in-cheek, and stylistically, they employ a number of elements designed to drum up a few chuckles. But it might surprise you to learn the film is actually quite earnest. Mark is an emotional mess, and though he and Jeremy might think they’re having having good, clean fun, his dark side comes out a few times, and it’s a little scary. Jeremy, meanwhile, is more of a loner, but spending time around Mark, Stephanie, and their son, Hunter, opens his eyes to what his life is missing.

The Do-Deca Pentathlon features perhaps the strongest ensemble work of any Duplass directorial effort. Steve Zissis is actually fantastic as Mark. He’s Jason Segel but for an extra 30 pounds, yet there’s real gravitas behind the lovable loser persona, and this Duplass veteran (he appeared in Baghead, Cyrus, and Jeff, Who Lives at Home) simply nails it all. No one else in the film is asked to do quite as much as Zissis, but Kelly, Lafleur, and even Julie Vorus (as Mark and Jeremy’s mother) have give strong, assured performances.

Even if you don’t fall for the third act switcheroo (I hesitate to call it a twist because it isn’t in the Shymalan sense. That said, things take a pretty big turn toward the dramatic), the film is damn funny. The film opens with Mark telling Stephanie a horrifying, but hilarious, story about Jeremy and poop. There’s a really entertaining laser tag bit about halfway through the film. And, as I mentioned before, there are a moments of stylistic comedy—like when Mark promises Stephanie he isn’t doing a Do-Deca and the film smash cuts to a laser tag facility. The music, also, underscores the inherent silliness of a family war built on games like mini golf and skee-ball.

There will be plenty who find The Do-Deca-Pentathlon‘s characters too immature, but anyone with real competitive blood running through their veins will understand how wrapped up one can get into something like this is. Mark can’t admit defeat in the first Do-Deca because he didn’t lose. Yes, the problems caused by this incident are unfortunate, but this damn contest is important, too. It’s important. And though the film does a lot of things, you can’t deny that the Duplasses succeed and getting that message across—an essential step in getting you to care about this film, which I did. It’s an odd one, but also quite enjoyable.

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