The Do-Deca-Pentathlon
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For moviegoers who are used to the glossy images and [sometimes] polished scripts of mainstream movies, mumblecore films are a pretty tough sell. Pure mumblecore films, after all, are made as cheaply as possible, with relatively unknown actors and an improvised script—a combination that often proves deadly (2008’s Baghead comes to mind). Still, as the filmmaking movement carries on, it seems that its leading filmmakers and their band of regular cast members are starting to get the hang of it—and the result is the Duplass brothers’ often genuinely funny The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.

Back in 1990, two teenage brothers took part in a three-day, 25-event competition for brotherly supremacy called the Do-Deca-Pentathlon. The competition ended in controversy—one that neither brother has been able to forget.

Now, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy Benton (Mark Kelly) may be grown, but their relationship still hasn’t healed. So when Jeremy decides to crash Mark’s birthday weekend with their mom (Julie Vorus), Mark is furious.

No matter how much Mark tries to fight it, though, that old rivalry is still strong. And it’s not long before, with a late-night game of pool, the two secretly agree to a rematch.

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is a sitcom-worthy example of sibling rivalry at its funniest. Like a classic episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, it shows how—no matter how grown-up they may be—boys will still be boys, and brothers will still go into battle to prove their superiority.

Zissis and Kelly eagerly take on their improvised roles, making them feel surprisingly natural. The two actors are perfectly believable as the battling brothers, constantly goading each other as they face off in everything from racquetball and swimming to mini golf and laser tag. The more they get into it, the funnier the film gets—especially during scenes like their arm-wrestling competition, which leaves them both red-faced and panting. And while the competition may be utterly immature, it’s honestly entertaining, too.

Of course, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon still suffers from some of the usual mumblecore limitations. The low-low-budget filmmaking sometimes makes it look more like a home movie than a feature film. There are still a handful of random scenes and conversations that don’t seem to fit (like Mark’s sudden decision to eat healthier and lose weight). And not all of the cast members are as engaging as Zissis and Kelly—like Jennifer Lafleur, who quickly takes Mark’s wife, Stephanie, from concerned spouse to humorless nag.

Most mumblecore films also tend to suffer from too many long, rambling monologues, brought about by actors who just don’t know when to shut up and let someone else talk. Fortunately, though, the ongoing competition in The Do-Deca-Pentathlon means that the movie is more action and less talk, giving the actors less opportunity to ramble. So it’s only when the brothers (and their other family members) decide to sit down and talk about their feelings that things start to get dull and uncomfortable.

While it still has its share of awkward moments, though, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is easily one of the most enjoyable mumblecore films I’ve seen, thanks to its believably battling brothers. Granted, for most mainstream movie lovers—those accustomed to the action and effects of a big-budget release—it’ll still take some getting used to. But, if you’re up for something different, this sibling rivalry comedy makes a great introduction to the mumblecore movement.

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