When I was a kid and would fight with one of my five siblings and then go crying to my mother, she would tell me to get over it and make up with them.
“She’s your sister and she’s going to be your sister for the rest of your life, so you had better learn to live with her,” Mom always said (or, alternatively, “He’s your brother and …”).
Her parental wisdom -- it turns out, Mom was right -- came rushing back while watching “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” an amusing and perspicacious comedy about two adult brothers locked in near mortal combat while each trying to vanquish the other in a made-up athletic competition.
“Do-Deca” is yet another low-budget, indie offering from Jay and Mark Duplass, the talented sibling duo who together wrote and directed “Cyrus,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and other earlier films and are key figures in the naturalistic mumblecore film movement. (Mark is also an appealing actor, most recently starring in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Darling Companion.”)
In this amiable little movie, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelley) are two brothers nearing 40 who return for a visit to their childhood home to visit with their mother (Julie Vorus). Once there, they decide again to take each other on in a self-invented, 25-event athletic contest, the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, which they first tried back in their teens. The events include laser tag, ping-pong, swimming contests, hitting baseballs from batting cages, and more.
Mark and Jeremy are a study in contrasts. Mark, a salesman, is married and a father; he’s also both anxious and overweight. The fitter Jeremy is Mr. Cool, making his living as a professional poker player and dating strippers. For each, the Do-Deca is a serious business, way too serious as far as the men’s mother and Mark’s loving wife (Jennifer Lafleur) are concerned.
As the men battle it out, huffing and puffing and trying to psych each other out every way they can, the movie entertains even as it perceptively examines masculinity, competitiveness and marriage. The picture of men behaving foolishly that’s presented here isn’t always pretty, but it’s one that rings true.
The performances, especially by Zissis and Lafleur, are effectively low-key, making their characters’ occasional emotional outburst all the more compelling. There’s nothing movie star-ish about them. They could be the folks residing next door or glimpsed arguing in a parking lot, seemingly muddling through life as best they can, sometimes with smarts and grace but sometimes not.
If you didn’t know better, as you watch the dynamics of the brothers and the rest of the family play out in “Do-Dec,” you might mistake the 90-minute movie for a particularly juicy episode of an addictive reality TV show. That’s meant as a compliment.