When looking back at the films of the early 21st century, no one will ever say that the plight of the overgrown adolescent male went undocumented. Shot four years ago and set aside while its writer-directors made Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives At Home for major studio arms, the affable 76-minute comedy The Do-Deca-Pentathlon feels a little behind the curve, as stories of arrested development have mostly receded back into Adam Sandler’s turf. What makes the difference—and it’s only the teensiest little sliver—is that the Duplasses have made the film as much about the complexity of sibling relationships as the silly spectacle of grown-ups acting like children. Its insights are modest, but modesty is a virtue for a low-key comedy this doggedly unpretentious.
Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly star as semi-estranged brothers who renew their fierce boyhood rivalry on Zissis’ birthday weekend. They owe part of their mutual disdain to grass-is-always-greener resentment: Kelly secretly admires the middle-class stability of Zissis’ family and middle-class home, while Zissis likely envies Kelly’s freewheeling life as a professional poker player. The other part is a 20-year-old beef over “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” their homemade Olympics-style competition, which ended in controversy. As Zissis’ wife (Jennifer Lafleur) arranges his party, the brothers sneak off for late-night ping-pong sessions and events that include everything from laser tag to who can hold their breath underwater the longest.
Though convention dictates that Zissis must finally realize his participation is childish and silly, the best scenes in The Do-Deca-Pentathlon suggest the opposite—that acting like kids can be revitalizing and fun. The case for maturity isn’t helped by Lafleur’s character, whose constant scolding turns her into a Marge Simpson type, always there with the wet blanket. When Zissis and Kelly slip off for an afternoon and square off in multiple venues, the film taps into the giddy fantasy of being young again while underlining the fundamental ludicrousness of same. It’s a shame Lafleur—and the Duplasses—are inclined to put a stop to it.