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It’s all relative - ‘Like Brothers’

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There are few bonds as close as those that exist between brothers. And some fraternal bonds transcend even the typical, creating a tight-knit relationship built on an intimacy that no outsider could possibly fully understand.

It’s that latter dynamic that impacts every page of “Like Brothers” (Ballantine, $28) by Mark and Jay Duplass. The Duplass Brothers – patron saints of bootstrap DIY indie filmmaking – have been one of the most fertile and interesting creative partnerships of the 21st century. Their considerable talents in numerous aspects of filmmaking – acting, writing, directing, producing, you name it – helped, of course, but it’s the passion, ambition and determination inherent to their partnership that truly led to their success.

With this new book, they add “author” to their shared resumé, constructing a quick-reading experience that basically bounces back and forth between accounts of the growth of their personal and professional relationships. It’s equal parts brotherly memoir and inside baseball movie industry narrative, shining a light on a relationship that is somehow even closer than their work might lead you to believe.

“Like Brothers” is broken down into a series of essays, most taking the perspective of either Mark or Jay. A lot of time is spent discussing the development of their relationship from their time growing up together in Louisiana. Despite being four years apart, the two were inseparable almost from the get-go, even going so far as sharing a twin bed long after reaching ages where such a thing might be deemed a bit weird. But their creative partnership was there from the beginning, whether it was making films with their dad’s unwieldy video camera or putting together acoustic musical acts or really anything at all. It seems that they’ve always had a highly unusual closeness – one that they themselves freely admit might not always have been the healthiest thing.

But Mark and Jay also spill plenty of ink sharing their perspectives on the world of filmmaking. Specifically, they’re very honest about how they went about making their own creative dreams come true. From the story behind the failure of their first feature film effort to the thrown-together three-minute short that got them into Sundance and onto the industry’s radar to the available resources style of filmmaking that became their signature, the Duplass Brothers talk about their climb up the ladder with truthful and frank humor.

But it isn’t all wine and roses. The book – particularly the back half – also delves into some of the consequences of their particular brand of partnership. Their closeness resulted in the loss of some of their individuality, with each brother finding occasion to harbor a little resentment and/or jealousy toward the other, both for how credit was distributed for collaborative projects and for attention granted to their separate pursuits. Not to mention how the codependent nature of their dynamic didn’t always leave room for anyone else, either on a professional or personal level.

Interspersed amongst these two narratives are a couple of subthreads that offer up a very different (and delightful) type of entertainment. There’s the ongoing “Top 10 Films of All Time” list that develops over the course of the book. Now, that’s not a list for either Mark or Jay, but rather a Duplass Brothers Top 10 intended to somehow satisfy both of them. Unsurprisingly, it takes a long time, but the evolution of the list is fun to watch, with more than a few genuinely unexpected choices.

The other subthread is much less tangential, almost serving as a bridge between the two sides of the Duplass relationship coin. These four pieces – titled “Airport” and numbered one through four – are transcriptions of a game that the brothers play while waiting for flights. They pick a person or persons and construct stories about them. These intricate and engaging biographies evolve into narratives – potential movie ideas, basically. It’s a snapshot of the Duplass process; we’re along for the ride as Mark and Jay flex their muscles and put their respective strengths on display as they tease out these elaborate stories, tying meandering absurdities to grounded realities. The interplay in these scenes might be the best representation of the brotherly dynamic – save possibly the occasional reproduced e-mail exchanges – anywhere in the book.

“Like Brothers” is going to be most interesting to those with an interest in filmmaking, which stands to reason. But this book is far more than film industry insight. It is a clever and thoughtful meditation on what it means to be brothers. It’s a shared look inside a close relationship that might be a little TOO close. It illustrates how we can struggle with both failure and success. It’s a book filled with love and passion and frustration and hope.

All in all, “Like Brothers” makes it awfully easy to like these brothers.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 15:30

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