I had heard of Jay and Mark Duplass many years ago when the term ‘mumble-core’ was being thrown around. I had, and still have, no idea what that term actually means in the course of the film, but I can say that if their movies are mumble-core, then I am a fan of mumble-core. I thought the brothers Duplass would be the perfect subjects for my next ‘Five Days Of…” column not just because they have written and directed five feature length films but because I couldn’t shake the idea that whenever people would bring them up in conversation, I had nothing to add to the discussion. No more. I am familiar with Mark’s role on The League and genuinely like all the actors involved in the show but had no idea that that Mark Duplass was the other half of this writing/directing brotherhood that everyone was talking about and I knew nothing about. Without further ado, I give you my week long film fest featuring the films of Mark and Jay Duplass.
THE DO-DECA PENTATHLON
I love how you’d think Mark and Jay didn’t get along growing up. Their films sort of speak volumes to that theory on the surface; however, just talking to them for a brief moment you’d understand the exact opposite. Mark and Steve are estranged brothers who, not so coincidentally, find themselves embattled in the same event that tore their relationship apart when they were young. The Do-Deca Pentathlon was a personal Olympics the boys created comprising of 25-events to prove who the better brother was. Unfortunately, due to a technicality, a winner was never named. Single Jeremy, played to button pushing perfection by Mark Kelly (Mad Men), shows up unannounced to his brothers’ birthday party in hopes of settling the debate once and for all. Mark (Steve Zissis) has a wonderful and supportive family that has seen him through years of therapy brought on by the epic tournament so many years ago. Mark finally gives into Jeremy’s urging and the two brothers set out to re-boot the Do-Deca under the guise of rekindling their relationship. Mark is a straight-laced blue-collar husband with no excitement in his life. Jeremy is a professional poker player with nothing to show for his existence except his winnings. Their need for change comes to a head during the events in hilarious fashion. While I don’t personally know the Duplass brothers, I would say that this film feels a lot like what I think their relationship is like. It’s brutally honest and very amusing in a way that I found myself laughing out loud a lot. Being my first Duplass film I’m hoping Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly show up more. They are the best thing about the film. IF not, I’m seeking their work out.
Jonah Hill plays the title character Cyrus. His extremely close and unconventional relationship with his mother Molly (Marisa Tomei) is being threatened by her new romantic interest John (John C. Reilly). John’s been divorced for seven years and has all but giving up on love until he meets the energetic and affable Molly. The only baggage she seems to have is her 21 year-old son, who seems hell bent on keeping them apart. Jonah Hill delivers a career best performance as a young man afraid to lose the only relationship he has. John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei are as solid as you’d expect, rounding out an incredibly talented and believable cast. This movie could have been filled with clichés about two men fighting for the same woman that we see in every other romantic dramedy. The Duplass brothers approach this topic with a unique amount of insanity and honesty that doesn’t feel force-fed. The rivalry between John and Cyrus is both the main source of comedy AND drama throughout the film that you almost want the frustration to continue. This is the first film for the brothers Duplass in which they’ve had an A-list cast and any sort of budget to work with. They don’t squander their opportunity but deliver a really poignant look at what’s funny.
JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME
This is without a doubt the most unexpected films I’ve seen this year. You’d think that a movie starring Jason Segal and Ed Helms would be a laugh a minute but it’s not and that’s a good thing. Segal is Jeff, who happens to live at home. He’s obsessed with the movie ‘Signs’, which already gets my approval. He spends his days smoking pot, masturbating and contemplating his destiny. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) on the other hand seems to have his shit together. He’s got his own place, a job and a wife. Yet, perfect is not the word you would use to describe his life at this moment. After Jeff is sent out on an errand for his mother, he unexpectedly runs into his brother Pat. It’s at this point that the day takes an interesting turn when Pat suspects his wife is cheating on him. The two brothers reconnect in very interesting ways that felt truly unique and heartwarming. So far when Jay and Mark are dealing with siblings on film, they soar. Jeff and Do-Deca are my favorites thus far.
THE PUFFY CHAIR
The Puffy Chair is the perfect example that anyone, really, can make a movie. All you need is a good story, honest performances and a camera. I don’t want to sound like I’m passing the movie off in anyway; in fact, I want to convey the exact opposite. This movie is pretty inspiring when you look at it from the perspective of an aspiring filmmaker. The Duplass brothers continually showcase how low-budget filmmaking can be extremely effective and successful. In the film Mark Duplass plays Josh, who drives across country to deliver his father an old purple chair, just like the one he had when Jeff was a kid. His plans venture off course when his high maintenance girlfriend and his free thinking younger brother tag along. There’s a lot of tension in the film built on the wonderful chemistry between Josh and Emily, played by Duplass regular Katie Aselton. They are more natural than any onscreen couple I’ve seen in a long time. The humor, of which there is a lot, assembles itself around the tension that the cast brings onscreen. It’s funny and really honest filmmaking.
Chad, Matt, Michelle and Catherine decide to re-ignite their acting careers by heading into the woods for a weekend under the stars to hash out a script idea. The script turns into a horror movie in which four people in a cabin in the woods are terrorized by a man with a bag over his head. Things get weird when the movie events begin to happen to the foursome in real life. Baghead is my least favorite of the Duplass films but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It also isn’t that great. Again, the film puts together another really nice cast of actors to portray very likeable and honest characters put in a frightening situation. At the center is longtime collaborator Steve Zissis who might be my new favorite actor from the Duplass films. The film is more a less a horror with a bit of a twist towards the end that I think some people will enjoy. Seek it out of only to watch Zissis and Greta Gerwig. They are both great onscreen together.