This review was originally published on March 28, 2012…
I just need to get this off my chest. Ten years ago, my husband, then a man in his mid-twenties, came up with the idea of a twelve-event competition. The nature of these events varied from drinking competitions to games of skill or (mild) athleticism. He called it the Dodeca-Cathelon. This competition has taken place every year since then, around his birthday. Fast-forward to 2012, and we come to find out that the old Duplass brothers are festival touring a film called “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.”
Granted, they shot “Do-Deca” in 2008 alongside “Baghead.” This was way before they “made it” with mainstream audiences. But that’s still six years after the world’s first Dodeca-Cathelon took place in Seattle, WA. Now, maybe there’s a collective consciousness thing at play; also possible that two or three guys just had the same idea. Anyway, as you can imagine, we were definitely curious to see what this film is all about. And while it ended up having a bit more drama and life-lessons than my husband’s birthday parties, it’s still pretty entertaining.
So in the Duplass version, two extremely competitive brothers spent three days of their youth competing in a twenty-five-event challenge to determine which of them was, well… the better brother. The events comprised of games of skill and mild athleticism: everything from laser tag to arm wrestling. Unfortunately, they never finished their Do-Deca-Pentathlon because their dad prematurely ended their tie-breaking breath-holding contest. It’s unlikely that a definitive result would have solved anything anyway. Mark (the responsible family man with some stress-related health problems) and Jeremy (the perpetual manchild with zero responsibilities) have issues that run much deeper.
When Jeremy realizes he’s been left off the guest list for Mark’s birthday weekend at their mother’s house, he decides to crash the party. He doesn’t have any particular designs when he arrives other than to make everyone feel guilty for leaving him out. But when he finds that a video of the original Do-Deca has been taped over, it drives his gaping wounds even further open. Eventually, Jeremy succeeds in goading Mark into a rematch, though it must happen behind his disapproving wife’s back. Never mind the fact that some of Mark’s health problems might stem from his pathological competitiveness which Jeremy awakens in him like lycanthropy on a full moon.
Mark’s pre-pubescent son, on the other hand, is excited to see a more manly side of his father and conspires to help them complete their goal. Cue the hilarious events montages as Mark and Jeremy take to the ping-pong table like their lives depend on it. As the weekend progresses, the competition escalates and it threatens to tear the family apart. Eventually, they must choose between the family’s happiness and determining once and for all which brother is the true champion.
The Duplasses put “Do-Deca” on the back burner when they started working on their career-making film, “Cyrus,” and there is probably a reason for that. At times, it feels like a throwback to their more momentous work. But even though some of the dramatic beats feel a little simple, it’s only because they’re capable of so much more. Or perhaps they are trying to argue that sometimes we can be so stuck with the bad traits we developed in our youth that we don’t always see the error of our ways until it’s reflected in the disappointed faces of our loves ones. Besides, even a sub-par Duplass film is still better than most mainstream comedies. I just wish they’d stop stealing our ideas.