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Jay Duplass (#110 of 7)

Tribeca Review: The Overnight and Man Up

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Tribeca Review: <em>The Overnight</em> and <em>Man Up</em>
Tribeca Review: <em>The Overnight</em> and <em>Man Up</em>

Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, Patrick Brice’s The Overnight has a lot in common with the brothers’ HBO dramedy Togetherness. Both explore the existential angst of being no longer young but not quite middle-aged yet, as experienced by a small cohort of middle- and upper-middle-class white Angelenos. And both create a sometimes cringe-inducing facsimile of the unpredictability of real life by mixing comic awkwardness with genuine tenderness and vulnerability, often in the same moment.

The Overnight’s insecure stay-at-home dad, Alex (Adam Scott), and savvy, nurturing working mom, Emily (Taylor Schilling), are feeling their way through their mid 30s. They may not be quite aware that their capacity for spontaneous joy and their sexual spark are slowly suffocating under the routines of a years-old marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood, but they feel something missing, Alex in particular fretting about the difficulty of making friends in a new place (they just moved to Los Angeles). Then the quirky but irresistible Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, whose air of impish innocence makes the character seem a little dangerous, but ultimately trustworthy) spots them in a park where their children and his are playing and invites them to dinner. His invitation feels magical, an answer to the couple’s unspoken prayer. And, like a wish granted by a genie, it opens the door to a new and better world.

SXSW 2015 Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results

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SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results
SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results

Writer-director J. Davis’s Manson Family Vacation is a disarmingly unpredictable tale of reconciliation between two brothers. When Conrad (Linas Phillips) shows up to visit his estranged brother, Nick (Jay Duplass), the two are revealed to be such polar opposites that it’s no surprise to learn that Conrad was adopted: Big, blond, shaggy, unemployed Conrad is laidback but radiates an air of outlaw unpredictability, while dark, slight Nick, a successful lawyer, is buttoned down from his shirt to his emotions. The shock is in learning that Conrad’s adoptive father and brother were relentlessly critical of him, denying him the love they shared with each other.

Nick’s disapproval is fueled on this visit by Conrad’s newfound obsession with Charles Manson, whom he talks about with a giggly excitement that suggests admiration. His obsession gives even the film’s most innocuous scenes a frisson of danger, leaving open the question of just how devoted Conrad is to the murderous Manson. Old news footage, which covers enough of the basics to clue in viewers who know nothing about Manson, focuses on his vision of family, with clips of the man talking about his childhood and what he wants for his son providing more fodder for the nature-versus-nurture debate that percolates under Nick and Conrad’s lifelong feud.

SXSW 2012: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, Frankie Go Boom, & 21 Jump Street

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SXSW 2012: <em>The Do-Deca-Pentathlon</em>, <em>Frankie Go Boom</em>, & <em>21 Jump Street</em>
SXSW 2012: <em>The Do-Deca-Pentathlon</em>, <em>Frankie Go Boom</em>, & <em>21 Jump Street</em>

The core framework of The Do-Deca-Pentathlon—two brothers, one with his life “together” and the other an irresponsible louse, reuniting, fighting, and reconciling—feels a bit too basic and familiar for Mark and Jay Duplass, serving as a convenient excuse to populate their film with admittedly hilarious scenes of rival siblings childishly rekindling old grudges. Mark (Steve Zissis) brings his wife (Jennifer Lafleur) and son (Reid Williams) back to his mother’s (Julie Vorus) house for his birthday celebration, specifically not inviting his belligerent brother Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who shows up anyway, intent on baiting Mark into participating in the titular 25-event Olympic-style competition the brothers created back in high school.

SXSW 2010: Cyrus, The Thorn in the Heart, & More

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SXSW 2010: <em>Cyrus</em>, <em>The Thorn in the Heart</em>, & More
SXSW 2010: <em>Cyrus</em>, <em>The Thorn in the Heart</em>, & More

Cyrus (Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass): I first became aware of filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass when I saw their feature The Puffy Chair at SXSW ’05. The brothers are SXSW favorites, and though that may be partly because they’re local talent (they went to film school at the University of Texas), it’s not the main reason. Their funny, truthful character studies, which respect all their characters without putting any on a pedestal, fit right into the festival’s laidback yet professional vibe.

In Cyrus, John C. Reilly plays John, a man whose new romance with what appears to be the perfect woman (Marisa Tomei) is threatened by her diabolically passive-aggressive son (Jonah Hill), who wants to keep her all to himself. The three are funny and touching, and the kind-eyed Catherine Keener is wonderfully wry, as always, as John’s ex-wife, who’s patiently weaning him from emotional dependence seven years after their divorce.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008: Baghead

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Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Baghead</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Baghead</em>

A prankish comedy-thriller overtly about desperation and insecurity, Baghead begins with a dead-on Q&A at a Los Angeles indie film festival, where an underground auteur (Jett Garner) condescendingly responds on matters of budget and improvisation. (“Do you plan every word you’re going to say every day?”) A quartet of unemployed actors, after being ejected from the fest’s afterparty, ruminate about their careers and decide to hole up in a house in the sticks to write a screenplay for their own calling-card vehicle. This second feature by the Duplass brothers, with co-writer/lead actor Jay from The Puffy Chair now sharing directing credit with Mark, soon becomes a kind of mumblecorish spin on The Blair Witch Project (or a riff on that movie’s founding marketing myth that it was authentic found footage). But the crux of the suspense is where the joking will stop, both among the deceptive and game-playing characters and by the filmmakers. As a hybrid, it’s destined to disappoint horror fiends who take its predator-in-the-woods moves at face value, but it delivers on its premise that the shameless scheming of a friend can be a scarier phenomenon than a boogeyman with a knife.