I have always been fond of the “Duplass Brothers,” Mark and Jay Duplass. Their indie comedies fuse scruffy charm with raw insight so spot-on that it’s occasionally painful. Case in point: 2010’s “Cyrus,” a dark comedy so squirm-inducing that it inspires audiences to laugh through clenched teeth. When I interviewed the directing duo about the film, I told them that the performance they elicited from star Jonah Hill was flat-out revelatory. It proved that Hill had more serious acting aspirations, and served as a fitting precursor to his Oscar-nominate work in “Moneyball.” Hill was terrific in that film, but not as great as he was in “Cyrus.”
Though the Duplasses got their start in the micro-budget realm, it was only a matter of time when they graduated to more mainstream fare. Compared to other filmmakers branded with the unfortunate, media-created term, “mumblecore,” Mark and Jay were skilled in creating classical three-act structures with rather conventional arcs. After garnering praise for “Cyrus,” the filmmakers were able to attract an all-star cast for their next project, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home,” which opened to little fanfare earlier this year. The film, which starred Jason Segel, Ed Helms, judy Greer and Susan Sarandon, was a thoroughly entertaining trifle, but it’s forced deus ex machina felt like an intrusion (in a way, it utilized the same cheap, “M. Night Shyamalan”-style tactics that are parodied in the film’s opening monologue). The most honest, and least sentimental, of the brothers’ films remains in their masterful feature debut, 2005’s “The Puffy Chair.”
“Puffy Chair” paired Mark Duplass with the radiant Katie Aselton, who has gone on to become known as Mark’s real-life wife, co-star on FX’s hit fantasy football sitcom, “The League,” and an accomplished filmmaker in her own right (check out her superb directorial effort, “The Freebie”). This summer, Mark has accepted more acting roles than ever in films that aren’t directed by him and his brother. As much as I love Mark and Jay’s pictures, I think they could learn a thing or two from their filmmaking peers. Mark co-starred alongside Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt in Lynn Shelton’s excellent character vignette, “Your Sister’s Sister,” which utilized naturalistic improv and immersive camerawork refreshingly devoid of the brothers’ distracting quick zooms. Though I had a few issues with its meandering script, Colin Trevorrow’s sci-fi comedy, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” exploded with life whenever Mark and his captivating co-star, Aubrey Plaza, were front and center.
Mark is also due to have a role in Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled project about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and will re-team with “True Adolescents” director Craig Johnson next year for “The Skeleton Twins,” opposite Anna Faris and Bill Hader. Of course, this means Mark runs the risk of over-exposure, but I think his genial, effortlessly watchable screen presence will be a welcome fit no matter how many times audiences become reacquainted with it. And though the roles keep streaming in, Mark and Jay show know signs of halting behind the camera, as evidenced by their latest cinematic ode to brotherly love, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.”