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The Films of the Duplass Brothers

Baghead (January 22/10)

Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, Baghead follows four friends (Ross Partridge's Matt, Steve Zissis' Chad, Greta Gerwig's Michelle, and Elise Muller's Catherine) as they arrive at a cabin in the woods hoping to collaborate on a screenplay - with the sudden appearance of a bag-wearing stranger inevitably putting a crimp in the quartet's creative endeavors. It's an intriguing premise that's employed to predictably subdued effect by the Duplass brothers, as the filmmakers - in their efforts at cultivating an atmosphere of realism - place an ongoing emphasis on elements of a decidedly authentic nature (ie everything here, from the performances to the script to the visuals, has been infused with a low-key, almost documentary-esque sensibility designed to perpetuate the siblings' down-to-earth modus operandi). There's consequently little doubt that Baghead's unapologetically meandering structure ensures that it's only truly compelling in fits and starts, with the movie at its best when focused on the various characters' relationship-based foibles (ie sad-sack Chad lusts after Michelle, despite the fact that she clearly sees him as just friend). It's also worth noting that the naturalistic vibe effectively dulls the impact of the narrative's horror-based elements, as the transition from relentless chatter to overt scares isn't handled quite as seamlessly as one might've hoped. Despite such deficiencies, however, Baghead just barely manages to justify a mild recommendation due primarily to its appropriately brisk running time and uniformly impressive selection of performances - with the inclusion of an unexpected third-act twist and a genuinely sweet finale ensuring that the movie ends on a comparatively positive note.

out of

Cyrus (January 24/11)

Jay and Mark Duplass' first studio feature, Cyrus follows John C. Reilly's John as he meets and falls for a single mother (Marisa Tomei's Molly) - with problems ensuing as her adult son (Jonah Hill's Cyrus) begins meddling in the couple's burgeoning relationship. There is, right from the get-go, no mistaking Cyrus for anything other than a Duplass brothers flick, as the movie boasts exactly the sort of low-rent feel that one has come to expect from the siblings' work - although, to be fair, the film doesn't feel quite as aggressively improvisatory as something like, for example, Baghead. The documentary-like atmosphere is perpetuated by the subdued storyline and the uniformly naturalistic performances, with, in terms of the latter, Reilly and Tomei's superlative efforts certainly going a long way towards initially capturing the viewer's interest (and also ensuring that one can't help but root for John and Molly's relationship to work out). It's only as Hill's title figure arrives on the scene that Cyrus begins to take a dip downwards, as the character is painted with such broad strokes that it almost feels as though he's stumbled in from an altogether different movie (ie it's impossible to believe that this guy could exist in the down-to-earth world established by the Duplasses). The frustratingly over-the-top nature of Hill's scenes do, as a result, exacerbate the film's various problems - ie the excessively deliberate pace becomes impossible to overlook - and it's ultimately difficult to label Cyrus as anything more than a well-acted yet wholly uninvolving (and downright unconvincing) piece of work.

out of

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Click here for review.

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (January 15/13)

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon follows siblings Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) as they reunite for the former's birthday and almost immediately agree to compete in the title athletic competition, which consists of 25 events running the gamut from breath-holding to basketball-playing to arm-wrestling - with the movie detailing the pair's ongoing efforts at completing the various tasks under the nose of Mark's disapproving wife (Jennifer Lafleur's Stephanie). Jay and Mark Duplass have infused The Do-Deca-Pentathlon with precisely the sort of low-rent feel that one has come to expect from the filmmaking brothers, and there's little doubt that it does, as a result, take a while to wholeheartedly embrace the characters and their thinly-plotted exploits. It's worth noting, however, that the film benefits substantially from the winning performances from its various stars, with, especially, Zissis and Lafleur's charming work together proving effective at initially compensating for the movie's otherwise subdued atmosphere. There's ultimately little doubt that The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is at its best during its loose and fun midsection, as the emphasis on Mark and Jeremy's silly antics results in a number of laugh-out-loud funny moments and sequences (eg the pair work together to take out competitors at laser tag before turning on each other). The film's third-act shift into a straight drama - ie Mark's competitiveness becomes a problem - isn't quite as jarring as one might've feared, yet it's finally impossible to deny that even at 76 minutes, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon doesn't quite possess enough plot or substance to wholeheartedly warrant the full-length-feature treatment.

out of

© David Nusair