The day I saw The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, The Duplass Brothers’ film shot in 2008 but just released into select theaters now, was the same day Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant went on record as saying this year’s version of the USA Olympic Basketball Dream Team could beat the ballyhooed 1992 version of the USA Olympic Basketball Dream Team. “It’d be a tough one,” Kobe said, “but I think we’d pull it out.” Naturally, a few of the esteemed members of the ’92 team took umbrage – notably Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and, of course, Michael Jordan. According to the Associated Press Jordan said “I absolutely laughed” when told of Kobe’s comments and that there was “no comparison” between the teams.
Could today’s younger, shorter, potentially quicker take down the older, bigger, potentially slower, but much more experienced squad of yesteryear? Not really the point. No, the point is that young or old, unretired or retired, these men have competitive streaks the size of the Nile. Why does Kobe have to claim HIS team is better than Jordan’s, just as Jordan has to claim there is NO comparison between the teams? Who knows what lies in the heartz (spelling: 2Pac) of men?
The Brothers Benton, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly), have been estranged since childhood when their self-invented Do-Deca-Pentathlon, consisting of 25 events ranging from a 5K “Fun” Run to laser tag to holding your breath underwater, went awry. This was on account of that last event, when the boys’ grandfather worried they were drowning and pulled Mark from the water first, thereby giving victory to Jeremy. Mark doesn’t recognize his defeat, per se, and has never gotten over it, even if he tells his patient wife Stephanie (Jennifer LaFleur) he has. And when Jeremy turns up uninvited at their old childhood home where Mark has brought Stephanie and his young son Hunter (Reid Williams) for his traditional birthday celebration, there is no doubt the Do-Deca will be resurrected. Why must two grown-ups arm-wrestle to prove superiority? Who knows what lies in the heartz of men?
It is revealed that Mark suffers seriously from stress and has been ordered by his doctor and his therapist to avoid stressful situations at all costs. Thus, when Stephanie gets wind of the Do-Deca 2.0, she seeks to snuff it out. This leads to laughably pitiful attempts by the brothers to squeeze in various events behind her back – I say laughably pitiful because she is, crucially, refreshingly, almost never not aware of their secretive intentions. There is a decision she makes toward the end that appears conveniently idiotic to advance the plot but that I would wager is more Stephanie wanting to give her husband the opportunity to make the right decision on his own rather than make it for him in which case he would learn nothing. And this makes it extra painful for them both when, as he must, he mucks it up. The mother (Julie Vorus), meanwhile, just sort of stands on the sideline and enables away.
The third act, unfortunately, is a bit pat, particularly in the way Jeremy comes around to a more mature viewpoint. There does not seem to be quite enough time or development to convince his worldview has changed so dramatically. Even so, I like the way The Duplass Brothers – and this goes for their whole canon – mix the inherently ridiculous with the completely serious. It’s risky to go from an arm wrestling match replete with absurd facial expressions to a genuine lamenting of weight issues, but Do-Deca-Pentathlon does it often and successfully. The mixture of ridiculous and serious, after all, is the recipe of real life.
That might be why no single shot in a movie so far this year has wrecked me quite as much as the shot of Mark sitting alone, forlornly, on the curb outside the 7 Eleven with only a gigantic slurpee for accompaniment, the thorough embodiment of a man-child incorrectly coping with the rigors of adulthood. We so often yearn for films that make us feel like kids again – and, make no mistake, those films are important – but The Do-Deca-Pentathlon in its own low key way reminds us a great many of us are no longer kids – we are men. We gotta deal.