Director: Demetri Martin
Cast: Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen, Roy Scovel, Reid Scott, Christine Woods, Briga Heelan, Ginger Gonzaga, Barry Rothbart
MPAA Rating: (for language and some suggestive material)
Running Time: 1:33
Release Date: 6/2/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 1, 2017
Writer/director/star Demetri Martin's Dean is yet another examination of grief that believes it's too cool to be honest about the subject. It's a movie that constantly distances itself and its main character from the reality of loss. While that response is certainly accurate to a degree, the extent to which Martin's screenplay dodges the fact of the death of his main character's mother transforms the entirety of the movie. It's only tangentially about grief. Otherwise, it's a movie about a character's comic misadventures in trying to grow up—with or without a death in the family.
If we look at the movie in this way, its success or failure, then, depends on the character himself. Is he worth the time we must devote to his arrested development? This remains a question by the end of the movie. As a character, Dean is defined by his inability to take responsibility for himself or his actions. He's childish in multiple ways, including—and most especially—by way of his other defining trait: He draws. His drawings are sketches that, one character points out, look as if they were drawn by a kid.
There are no changes of note for Dean throughout the movie. By the time we see him make any progress, the movie is pretty much finished.
This means that Dean is a passive agent in his own life. Things happen to him, and he responds. If it's neither about grief nor the gradual revealing and transformation of the kind of person Dean is as a person, what is the movie about? Well, it's basically a situational comedy about a man who fears change and responds to it with confusion, denial, and/or avoidance.
The entire plot, such as it is, revolves around the idea that he doesn't want his father Robert (Kevin Kline) to sell the family house. Dean tells his dad that the two of them should meet to discuss the notion of the sale, but when Robert offers a day to talk, Dean says he's busy. When the father wants a reason, the son's mind—seen through a split-screen of handwritten excuses in his sketchbook—flails. He eventually lands on a trip to Los Angeles for a business meeting.
The meeting, with an advertising agency that wants to use his drawings, is real. One might think that Dean could accidentally begin to grow up because of it. If one thinks that way based on the obvious setup, then one doesn't know Dean or the movie. That's kind of the problem here.
Dean isn't much of a character, so the jokes are entirely about a series of awkward situations. He has broken up with his fiancée Michelle (Christine Woods) after his mother's death (from an unspoken illness, just to emphasize how little importance the movie actually puts on her passing). He's rethinking the decision for some reason, and that reason seems to be for the joke that he's uncomfortable when she shows up at his best friend's wedding with a new boyfriend. Adding to the discomfort, Brett (Reid Scott), the friend, has made Dean a co-best man with his new buddy Kevin (Barry Rothbart), a "bro"-minded louse whose toast is a rap and bad jokes (Dean thinks he's better, but his toast turns out to be all about his own problems.
The awkwardness continues in Los Angeles. His college roommate Eric (Rory Scovel) takes him out to a bar, where they try to flirt with women with insults. He goes to a party with an old acquaintance named Becca (Briga Heelan), an actress who wants her entire life to be filled with more drama than the roles for which she auditions, leading to an embarrassing scene in which she tries to convince Dean that he's making a move on her.
There's a bit of a bright spot with the introduction of Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), whom Dean meets at the party. It should come as no surprise, though, that Nicky becomes less of a character unto herself and more of a vessel to convince us that Dean possesses some quality that would attract a woman like her. She's one of those generically "perfect" women, who gets all of Dean's jokes, makes a few of her own, and is willing to have sex with him. Meanwhile, Robert starts dating his real estate agent (played by Mary Steenburgen) in a subplot that's multiple times more interesting, even while being less developed.
All of this is intentionally a dead end, because that's the movie's only point. The jokes don't work because there's little reason to laugh at Dean and even less reason to laugh with him. Dean wants us to believe he's special but provides no evidence to back up the assertion.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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