A known quantity in the world of independent film, Jay and Mark Duplass have been hard to ignore since their 2008 film “Baghead,” if not since their feature-length debut “The Puffy Chair” in 2005. Divisive their output may be at times, the two brothers have built a brand and a resultant style that makes much of their work recognizable. Such is the case with “The Do-Deca Pentathlon,” a film made not long after “Baghead,” but making its world premiere four years later at SXSW 2012.
The film follows two brothers not named Duplass (played by Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly) who decide to re-mount their ultimate test of sporting versatility, a 25-event challenge that features traditional and unconventional sports alike. While the premise may seem intriguing and the action tantalizing, many critics are choosing to frame their reviews around the film’s place in the greater Duplass canon and whether the effectiveness of the film is an indictment or endorsement of the filmmakers’ earlier work.
Arguing that the thin plot actually works in the film’s favor, Peter Debruge penned a laudatory review for Variety. “Whereas many of the Duplasses’ DIY colleagues make pics in which relationship issues serve as the subject rather than the subtext,” he writes, “this clever premise illustrates how a good story, however mundane it may seem, can provide a far more entertaining way of absorbing the same insights.”
John Jarzemsky goes even further at Twitch, praising the Duplass’ awareness of the scope of their story, saying, “While undeniably hysterical, this film is not a nihilistic echo chamber in which laughs rattle around, hollow and empty, nor is it a heavy-handed commentary on the disintegration of the family unit.” He continues, asserting that “this film accomplishes what has largely eluded American comedy for decades, and the Duplass brothers deserve nothing but praise for their stunning achievement.”
Although it wouldn’t be a critical roundup of a Duplass Brothers film without some dissention. Writing at The Playlist, Katie Walsh challenges the film’s characterization as a comedy, highlighting the specific elements that left her wanting. “With a thin story and profoundly unlikable characters all around, one might at least hope for something interesting to look at or listen to,” she writes, adding that the film “sports a flat, handheld camera style with a few micro-zooms and camera movements that serve no purpose except to change things up a bit.”
Where this film will fall in their body of work is too soon to tell. Let’s give it another four years.
Instant Twitterverse Reaction:
“duplass bros.’ ‘do-deca pentathlon’ is what they do so well; identifiable LOL human comedy.” – Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood
“*Do-Deca-Pentathlon* brings the laughs, but feels like a regression by the Duplasses until you realize it was actually filmed in ’08.” – Jonathan Pacheco, Slant/Press Play
“The Do Deca Pentathlon – B+. Heartfelt and hilarious tale of two brothers whose deep seeded problems are worked out thru a mega competition.” – Germain Lussier, SlashFilm
“DO-DECA-PENTATHLON: fun, slight, pointless, enjoyable, short. Barely a movie, but fine as barely-a-movies go.” – Eric D. Snider, Film.com
“I laughed a lot at THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON, a sweet Duplass Brothers comedy about the most epic sports event ever conceived.” – Alan Cerny, Ain’t it Cool News
“The Duplass brothers knock it out of the park for me again. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of their movies. The Do-Deca Pentathlon was charming.” – J. C. De Leon, VeryAware.com