Over the last couple of years, The Music Box in Chicago has been hosting a film series based on a book by Robert K. Elder entitled, The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. If the title isn’t straightforward enough, the book is a collection of interviews that Elder did with well-known directors about the movies that changed them in some way. This past weekend the theatre held their fourth installment, showing the Coen Brothers’ 1987 classic, Rasing Arizona. The contributor was Jay Duplass (Cyrus, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), who was also screening his latest film, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.
I was absolutely thrilled to hear that Jay Duplass was going to be in Chicago for this event. I will save it for a later and greater blog post, but one of Duplass’ films is actually the film that changed my life forever. I had checked out Do-Deca on Video OnDemand the week before, but I simply could not miss out on this opportunity to see and meet one of my favorite filmmakers. Excitement for that aside, it was also a pleasure to be able to view a print of Raising Arizona (a rare opportunity being that it came out two years prior to my birth).
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon was on par with other films the Duplasses have made thus far. If I have to muster up one complaint it would be the return of the video camera aesthetic that they’ve distanced themselves from with their last two films, Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. However, this is only because it was made before those two, as the brothers have been busy making studio films, they’ve only recently gotten the chance to finish editing and releasing Do-Deca.
The film pits two brothers against one another in a 25 event, homemade Olympics of sorts. Mark (Steve Zisses) and his wife and son head home to visit his mother and spend Mark’s birthday weekend there. When Jeremy (Mark Kelly) shows up, the old feud between the two starts again as if it never really ended. They bring back the do-deca-pentathlon and hilarity ensues. However, like their other films, the Duplass brothers don’t really rely on humor, but rather little moments of pure human emotion. The best example, as well as my favorite moment in the film, is a conversation between Mark and his wife about his weight. In this scene, he talks about how fat he’s gotten and how he can’t believe how he got to where he is today. The scene could play as its own short film, filled with heart and honesty and revelation that we can all relate to.
Next up was Raising Arizona, the film Jay Duplass was presenting as the film that changed his life. For anyone who hasn’t seen this comedy classic from Joel and Ethan Coen, you must. In their second feature film they manage to capture several top-notch performances (especially from Nicholas Cage) and establish the brothers’ unique filmic and comedic style that would later define some of their best work (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and so on).
After the film, Jay Duplass talked about seeing the film for the first time and how captivated he was by it. The film was apparently one of the inspirations for he and his brother to go to school and pursue filmmaking. Although the two sets of brothers don’t make the same kind of films, it was easy to follow Jay as he was describing the impact the movie had on him personally. We all have these films.
The night was a success. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon was a great watch that I would highly recommend to just about anyone (and judging by the audience’s reaction, they would too). And as I mentioned before, Raising Arizona is must-see, especially for any fan of the Coen Brothers’ later, more popular work. After finally working up the courage (yeah, I felt like a teenage girl waiting outside Justin Bieber’s hotel) I went up to stand in an awkward line of people waiting to talk to Jay Duplass. I didn’t know what I was going to say and I was constantly wiping the nervous sweat off my hands with my jeans. Then, out of nowhere and right before my “turn”, a worker for the theatre came and said we all had to get out because they were about to start a midnight screening of The Goonies. Fuck. That’s what I thought anyway, but Jay asked me to come talk to him in the hallway instead. After nervously talking way more than I should have and at a rate a courtroom stenographer would have trouble keeping up with, I finally calmed down and had a cool conversation with a filmmaker I truly respect. We talked about film school, Cassavetes, documentaries, and other stuff I can’t remember because I was too lost in the moment – one I will not forget.
I know this is not a typical review, but more of a document of that night. I may sound like a giddy dork for all this, but I appreciate you reading it and hope that you too can one day meet and have a conversation with someone you truly admire.