There's simplicity to the stories that the Duplass brothers tell. They understand the intricacies of strained family relationships and how simple things can all too easily turn into lifelong grudges. In 'Jeff Who Lives at Home' the writing/directing duo created a lovely, understated dramedy about two brothers reconciling their differences. In 'The Do-Deca-Pentathalon' they've taken on the feuding brothers subject again with some poignant results.
Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) have been at each other's throats since high school. As they've grown into adults and moved away from home the rift between them has only gotten larger. Mark and Jay Duplass appreciate how simple it is for family members to have a falling out, and how, if it isn't taken care of, those feelings can fester over time. The reason Jeremy and Mark don't talk to each other anymore is a seemingly stupid one. When they were teenagers they created a contest by compiling 25 various events into one huge challenge that would once and for all determine who was the best brother. It was a tie with one event remaining, that's where the controversy started.
Brothers are instinctively competitive. We're not really supposed to believe that it was the controversial outcome of the first contest that led to them not speak again. The first contest was simply the catalyst that tore apart an already fragile relationship. It continued on, unrepaired, but not forgotten.
Mark moved on to have a family while Jeremy became a professional poker player. The two of them haven't seen each other until now. Mark is celebrating his birthday with his family at his mom's house. Jeremy finds out he wasn't invited, feels angry, and decides to show up unannounced. That's when the two of them, still bitter about how things went down when they were kids, decide to do another 25-event contest.
The contest is secondary to what the characters are going through. It's a way that we're able to peer into their lives without it seeming too obvious. Both of these guys are struggling with situations far more important than a stupid contest, yet the contest is something tangible. Something that if they win they'll be able to laud over the other. What we really end up finding out about both of them is of far more worth than the contest ever was. That's where the Duplass brothers really shine in their writing. They slowly peel back the layers to reveal the emotional core of the film.
Like most Duplass movies, it isn't until the last 15 minutes that everything clicks together and you feel a sudden frog in your throat and welling in your eyes. They're masters at infusing a simple story with an enormous emotional impact.
It's a movie that feels like real-life. Like it could actually happen to someone, somewhere. The fights between Mark and his wife are genuine. The way Mark and Jeremy detest each other is palpable and is present in numerous families all over the world. The Duplass brothers have tapped into a familial dynamic that isn't explored all that much in movies. We're usually worried about if the guy gets the girl, not if two brothers can get along. Here they're able to shine a light on a world that many of us have experienced. A primal world where brothers fight for alpha male status. Once Mark and Jeremy start in at each other, opening old wounds, it's an uncanny feeling. If you grew up with a brother that you fought with you'll know exactly what they're going through and exactly how much those bad feelings from your sibling rivalry are still there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 20th Century Fox release. It's been pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc and is housed in the typical eco-friendly keepcase. It's coded for Region A use.
This is a low-budget movie that has been filmed entirely with handheld cameras as far as I can tell. The AVC-encoded 1080p picture does show signs of a lower budget at work. The movie is quite soft much of the time. Digital noise from the economic digital cameras is ever-present and it does a number on some of the fine detail that would otherwise be there. The movie is supposed to look amateurish, but along with the limitations in the filming equipment come a few problems.
The noise causes darker scenes to create quite a bit of crushing. Shadows are tough too. Even in daylight, mid-range shots feature faces – especially eyes – that are obscured by heavy unforgiving shadows. The blacks seemed rather depthless throughout the movie. Banding was noticeable in a few scenes, mostly in the black backgrounds and the blue gradients in the sky. Close-ups did feature some detail like sweat, stubble, and unattractive body hair, but as the camera pulls away those details are rapidly lost in the noise and overall gauzy look.
It says that this is a surround sound track, but you could've fooled me. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track might as well be a mono track as far as I'm concerned. Everything, from voices to music, is centered right up front. Rarely do sounds escaped to the front side speakers. Occasionally there's a person yelling out of frame. Surrounds are even quieter as only a few ambient sounds from a community gym and go-kart track make it in there. It's a pretty sparse mix. It does deliver intelligible dialogue though.
This film will fly under a lot of radars, however, it has the same spirit and underlying mixture of base human emotions as 'Cyrus' and 'Jeff Who Lives at Home.' It offers a window into the world of brotherly competition gone awry. How little things can balloon into life-altering changes. The audio and video presentations aren't all that great showing the movie's low-budget origins. However, this one is definitely worth a look.