Although probably well known to anyone who has followed the progress of the ‘mumblecore movement’, Mark and Jay Duplass have not made too much of an impact on mainstream audiences until now. With the US release (and UK release in September) of their new film, Cyrus, the pair have done what can only be described as crossed over.
If you’re not familiar with ‘mumblecore’, it is considered by many to be a movement in American cinema led by filmmakers such as Joe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton, the Duplass Brothers and many others who appeared to form a loose collective (although many reject the mumblecore tag) and over the past few years have created a variety of films all characterised by the use of low grade equipment, realistic settings and naturalistic performances and dialogue. The roots of mumblecore are often attributed to filmmakers such as John Cassavetes and Richard Linklater but with a variety of people making what are often considered mumblecore films, the influences are very diverse.
Below is my primer for the Duplass brothers. It is not an exhaustive list of their work and there are some acting roles I have not included (although I can recommend Hannah Takes the Stairs which Mark acts in) but it should give you a good introduction to their films and hopefully inspire you to check out their films if you haven’t already.
This Is John (2003)
This Is John is an eight minute short film starring Mark Duplass with Mark also credited as writer and Jay credited as director. The short film features the character John attempting to record the outgoing message for his answering machine, something which should be so simple.
The short film establishes key characteristics of the Duplass brother’s films with the comedy beats mixing with dramatic moments and awkward raw emotion. It also showcases Mark’s acting abilities which are actually not bad. As a short film This Is John works brilliantly and the pair show that they know how to create a concept perfect for this medium.
Check out the short film in full, embedded below.
Scrapple centres on an uncomfortable game of scrabble played between Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton as Rick and Amy. In a very natural progression there are a lot of similarities between This Is John and Scrapple, especially in the use of camera movement and close ups, but this time we see conversational dialogue and naturalistic interaction between a well drawn couple. The Duplass Brothers show here how adept they are at imbuing their characters with a level of depth and complexity. Although the characters of Rick and Amy have some simplistic characteristics there are obviously complex characters and it is surprising that when you come away from the short film you feel as if you know them very well.
Check out the short film below.
The Puffy Chair (2005)
The Puffy Chair was the Duplass brothers first attempt at a full feature film and they have acknowledged in interviews that in many ways the film is actually a series of short films pulled together using a road movie structure. Winner of the 2005 SXSW audience award The Puffy Chair helped raise the pair’s profile and has since been something of a sleeper hit on home video following a deal in the US with Netflix.
There are moments of brilliance in The Puffy Chair, short scenes and brief interchanges between characters that I loved but it is a little uneven as a whole. I also found the DIY approach to the filmmaking a little annoying in this instance. Although I do not expect a high standard to the technical elements in mumblecore films the out of focus shots and use of zooms in The Puffy Chair are beyond a minor issue and were just a constant irritation for me. These technical aspects seemed to serve no deliberate positive purpose in the film and their detrimental effect was significant.
I also found the main male character, Josh (played by Mark Duplass) and his brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins) to be so idiotic that I almost found myself losing interest in their journey. It was the dynamic between Josh and his girlfriend Emily (Katie Aselton) though that kept pulling me back in. This is one of the main strengths of The Puffy Chair and the dialogue between the couple feels natural and genuine. Despite a few reservations I would recommend The Puffy Chair as it it has a lot of positives to latch onto.
Take a look at the trailer embedded below to give you a taste of the film.
The Intervention (2005)
With The Intervention we begin to see even more of the realistic character interactions and effective dialogue that has continued through the rest of their work and with this short they throw in more characters than they have previously had on screen at one time. This does have mixed results though.
The Intervention is certainly an entertaining short but one that I found a little lacking. It does blend the humour and awkwardness quite well, something that the Duplass brothers seem to consistently nail but the character beats feel a little forced and the structure of the story seems messy and not in a free flowing natural way that often works in their other films.
Check out the short film in full, embedded below.
With the release of Baghead in 2008 the Duplass brothers had noticeably built upon their early work and created a film that not only appealed to fans of their homemade style but could also appeal to wider audiences with its compelling story and twisting narrative.
Receiving a limited theatrical release by Sony, Baghead opened to favourable reviews. Often described as a horror-comedy Baghead features four main characters who spend the weekend at a remote cottage intending to write a script that will help launch their careers. As the boundaries between dreams, fact and fiction blur it is unclear whether Baghead is real or not.
Starring the Elvis haired Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig and Elise Muller, Baghead is a thoroughly enjoyable film and a marked improvement on The Puffy Chair. The film is a blend of lots of different genres and is at times funny, dramatic and suspenseful.
Of the Duplass Brothers work that I have seen Baghead is probably my favourite and if you suspect you might be put off by the more DIY elements to their films I can definitely recommend this as an entry point.
Embedded below is the almost too polished Sony Pictures Classic trailer.
Released on the 17th of September in the UK, following its release in the US earlier this year, Cyrus has built up substantial critical acclaim. It is seen by many to be the cross over point in the brother’s career and it represents their first time working with well known names and closely with a bigger studio (Fox Searchlight).
Look out for our review of the film when it hits UK shores.
Embedded below is the UK trailer for the film.
A long gestating project The Do-Deca-Pentathalon is a film that features two brothers who compete in their own private Olympic games. Filmed before Cyrus and supposedly more like their pre-Cyrus work the film has allegedly been picked up by a studio for a future release.
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Supposedly the next film to be release though for the Duplass brothers is the feature film, Jeff Who Lives at Home, starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms. We will bring you more news on this one as I’m sure it is going to gain a lot of attention.
Fan of the Duplass Brothers? Not a fan? No opinion but a burning desire to tell the world just that? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.