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Dean (2017) Review

Quirky comedy about a man forced to deal with a loss.

Dean is a 2017 comedy/drama about loss, grief, and the redemptive power of love where an illustrator falls hard for a woman while trying to prevent his father from selling the family home in the wake of his mother’s death.

Movies seem to handle the loss of a loved one in basically one of two ways, with one it being either so devastating it launches the mourner into soul-crushing depression or two, it launches the mourner into soul-crushing depression with humor. Demetri Martin‘s Dean is a sort of mix of both and while it’s neither terribly sad or terribly funny, it works on a pretty solid balance between the two, quirky and touching just enough.

Dean (Martin), a cartooning illustrator, is an adult stuck in a rut as many are at his age, though it seems his friends are doing far better. One even has a ‘face computer’ (Google Glass) and getting married. Dean is single, recently un-proposed to his ex-fiancé, comparing their relationship to an eroding coastline. His father Robert (Kevin Kline) is suddenly a widower and not particularly handling it quite so well, stumbling about trying to cope, but he’s at least decided on one thing, or rather two actually. First he got himself a new phone, a smartphone, and also, he’s selling the house, news that isn’t so comforting to Dean. Meanwhile, Dean’s late on his next book and drawn only images of the Grim Reaper. Time to escape.

Everything about Dean is awkward, as meant to be, with many moments that are cringeworthy, by design, and others that resonate with some surprising emotion, all punctuated with a strumming guitar. Dean the character is a painfully unsettled fellow that just can’t find a space that’s comfortable. He runs from everything, including straight to LA to avoid dealing with his father’s pressure to sell the house, meeting Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) at a party, a young woman who seems destined to pull him out of his funk. Paralleling his every action it seems, sometimes even shown in split screen, is his father who we know is what Dean will become, now getting a little involved with the attractive real estate agent (Mary Steenburgen).

Dean
Dean, 2017 © Honora

It’s all pretty familiar and the gags aimed at the artificial life in LA are half-baked and obvious for the most part, stuff we’ve seen many times before though there’s no denying some still work. The film tries hard to make everything ungainly so that literally every person Dean encounters is a trope all their own, save for Nicky and admittedly, some of these bits have an odd trainwreck quality about them, making for some squeamishly funny moments, if that’s your kind of thing. The moppish Martin stumbles about the landscape trying to find some normality, the screen populated with his minimalistic drawings as commentary, and while there’s hardly anything fresh in any of it, there’s a weird comfort in the uncomfortableness, as if Dean is more about reminding us of where we’re at than exploring something new.

A film like this is set in stone and yet Martin layers it in his distinct modus operandi, one he’s honed for years on stage, and fans will soak it up. Kline makes the most of his small role and has his moment in the second half, where all things shift and the film finally veers from the norm, striking with some genuine emotional hits. It’s enough to make Dean a recommendation.

Dean (2017) Review

Movie description: Dean is a 2017 comedy/drama about loss, grief, and the redemptive power of love where an illustrator falls hard for a woman while trying to prevent his father from selling the family home in the wake of his mother's death.

Director(s): Demetri Martin

Actor(s): Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs

Genre: Comedy

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