It's not quite accurate to call this the "new" film from the Duplass Brothers.
That's actually "Jeff, Who Lives At Home." Or "Kevin," a documentary that they also recently finished.
What happened here is that before "Cyrus," the Duplass Brothers directed this film about what happens when two brothers let something fester, unfinished, and then they ran out of money and time to finish it, and so it festered, unfinished. And now, finally, they've gone back and completed it, and the result is a charming, low-key look at brotherly competition and the ways it can twist an already complicated dynamic into something sour and painful.
Jeremy (Mark Kelly) and Mark (Steve Zissis) are estranged as the film opens, largely due to a competition they held decades ago called The Do-Deca Pentathalon, which ended in controversy. There was no clear winner chosen, and as a result, they've been unable to be around each other ever since.
More accurately, Mark had to shut out Jeremy as completely as possible. He's married to Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) and they're raising a son of their own, Tyler (Reid Williams), who is convinced his dad is a total drip. On the occasion of Mark's birthday, he takes his family across the country to see his mother Alice (Julie Vorus), and for a party. He only does it on the condition that Jeremy not be invited, and of course, Jeremy shows up anyway. And from the moment he leaps from his car and jumps into a 5K race that Mark does every year with his family, turning it into a direct competition, event one of the Do-Deca rematch, the film is a struggle between the two of them.
I liked Kelly and Zissis in the film. I think they do good work. And I think the script for the film is interesting, generally well-explored. But there's something about this that feels like a rough sketch of something more polished. When you look at "Cyrus," which came after this, there's a jump there. And then the same is true of "Jeff, Who Lives At Home." This feels like the beginning of a process that these later films are also part of, something that stands separate from "Baghead" and "The Puffy Chair." There's more of a focus, more of a conventional movie shape delivered with an unconventional movie voice.
I think the film gets better as it wears on, as the characters finally start to feel more relaxed and natural, and by the end, I bought the sentiment it reaches for. It feels genuinely earned, and not just a phony formula epiphany. If you like the work that the Duplass Brothers do as filmmakers, then you're probably going to enjoy seeing this important step along the way. And I would imagine there's nothing but upside for Fox Searchlight on a film this small, especially when it's an idea that's so easy to explain in a trailer. I'll be curious to see what happens when they release it later this year.
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