Favorite Sons, by Jack Fleischer
Jay and Mark Duplass are probably two of the biggest names in lo-fi filmmaking with films like Cyrus and The Puffy Chair. The formula seems simple enough: take people, put them in awkward situations, and watch them try and extricate themselves. Due to their minimalist approach these films are usually small stories with big characters, and The Do-Deca-Pentathalon isn’t any different. It’s a backyard sports movie, driven by two brothers competing to be “best son.”
Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) are brothers who at some point around 1990 created a backyard sporting event composed of 25 events that they dubbed the Do-Deca-Pentathalon. When the competition ended inconclusively it started a rift between them that never fully healed. Fast-forward twenty years, and Mark brings his family to visit his mother in Louisiana for his birthday. That’s when Jeremy, uninvited, shows up and the Do-Deca-Pentathalon is revived much to the chagrin of Mark’s wife.
Sports movies are notoriously unreliable at the box office, and it’s easy to understand why. How do you make an audience care about a sport that either they have no interest in, or that doesn’t feature actual players? This film expertly skirts that issue by deemphasizing the sports aspect. There are creative montages, and certain events are featured, but this is really the story of Jeremy and Mark
This is movie that’s actually about competition, more than sport. Highlights of the Do-Deca include a game of laser tag, a stomach churning “fun run,” and holding one’s breath under water. Here, Jay and Mark Duplass are showing how well they do their jobs by getting good performances, and shooting it all in what I might call an “aggressively-spaced-out.” What I mean is that it’s about the space of people on screen and where their eyes are much more than it’s about the actors being physically on top of each other.
True, there may not be much in the way of spectacular shots, special effect, etc. but it never feels like any of that was needed. The reality is that this is an astonishingly well-acted movie. Kelly and Zissis are beautifully complimented by Jennifer Lafleur as the wife and Julie Vorus as Mom. In a lot of ways this is a movie about how we hurt the ones we love (intentionally or not), and that’s something you need an actor to convey. Zissis, a regular in Duplass films, in particular does a really good job at creating a sympathetic asshole.
For those who know the TV show Kenny vs. Spenny, this movie may feel like familiar territory, but where those guys are crass and push each other to extremes in a cartoonish manner, there is nothing over the top about the way these characters act. This movie screened at the LA Film Festival, and the Duplass brothers mentioned that this film began as a big budget script in the vein of Step Brothers, but that they decided that they didn’t want to write that story, so they did this instead, and with their own money. This movie shares a lot with these two other projects, but unlike either of them, this is a movie firmly grounded in, and largely dependent on being realistic.
The Do-Deca-Pentathalon never drags, this may be the result of a shorter runtime (70 minutes) but it also seems to be a side effect of Jay and Mark only choosing the most important and impactful moments. There isn’t a moment of wasted time, and for a film that will make you want to revisit your own childhood, that seems very appropriate.