I’m going to play amateur psychologist here and highlight the sibling relationship as perhaps the most crucial in a person’s life (for those lucky enough to have siblings anyway). Think about it. On a normal basis, parents make their exit in the middle of your life and your grandparents even earlier. Spouses and children enter sometime in your mid-20’s. Friends will come and go. But siblings are the perpetual companion – which can be a blessing or a curse depending on the relationship.
If there’s something to be taken away from Mark and Jay Duplass’ (notice, brothers) most recent flick The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, it’s that string of obligation and shrugging love that exists even in the wake of a sibling rivalry that has proven toxic.
In the movie, two fully grown brothers Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) are catapulted back into the throes of an unfinished competition from their youth. Jeremy, presumably the older brother though it’s never stated outright, was the winner of the original “Do-Deca” a 25-event makeshift Olympiad comprised of both traditional events (basketball, ping pong) and novelties (laser tag, lung capacity). The bone of contention for Mark is that Jeremy won 13-12 on a technicality when their grandfather mistook one of the competitions for danger and intervened.
Like many memories from one’s formative years, the two brothers are more impacted by the results of said competition than any objective third-party could understand. The winner Jeremy became hooked on the feeling all the way onto the professional poker circuit, where he finds himself unfulfilled and lacking human connection. The loser Mark became a family man with a wife Stephanie (Jennifer LaFleur) and son Hunter (Reid Williams) but continued to feel like a loser in perpetuity, to the point of requiring a therapist for the feelings.
We join the story when Jeremy finds himself uninvited to little bro’s birthday party at their old family home with mother Alice (Julie Vorus). He decides to crash anyway, not to the particular chagrin of anybody else, but causing concern anyhow . When the brothers discover that the age-old Do-Deca can’t be so easily forgotten, they opt for a sequel under the cover of darkness. Mark is under specific instruction from his wife, doctor and shrink not to fall back into these old habits.
Eventually they are found out, subsequently put into the doghouse long enough for their competitive nature to sublimate into brotherly love once again.
In the context of the low-budget, hyper-real Mumblecore movement, I can understand the appeal to this story for the Duplass brothers who helped to pioneer it. It’s a fun high-concept piece dosed with just enough familiarity for anybody who experienced such a thing in their own youth (just ask my sister Kate about baseball with the stuffties). On a similar note, the sibling relationship isn’t explored in fiction nearly often enough – usually eschewed for all things having to do with romance.
And yet, does The Do-Deca-Pentathlon contribute anything unique to the dialogue? When Mark and Jeremy wax philosophical on their childhood, the results don’t seem disastrous enough to border on estrangement. Compelling fiction, as they say, is all about the stakes involved. In this particular case, the Duplass’ predilection toward understatement is a bit of an albatross.