Dean

Studio: CBS Films
Directed by Demetri Martin

Jun 02, 2017 Web Exclusive
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In this day in age when authentic storytelling in cinema continues to be marginalised in favor of sensationalism, it’s nice to be reminded from time to time that a film can come from a real place in a real person, and not a studio’s fantastical concept or a team of creatives trying to coordinate a remake, reboot or adaptation. Comedian, artist and writer Demetri Martin delivers such a film with Dean, his amiably understated cinematic directorial debut, which he also penned and starred in, and it feels like a gift.

In one of many amusingly relatable moments, Martin’s character, Dean, remarks that he can’t bring himself to have a meeting with people who call themselves ‘creatives’. Dean is an artist, an illustrator of wittily ironic cartoons, and this is both believable and an effective narrative tool because so is Martin, who implements them in his real life comedy routines. Caught in a transitional funk after the passing of his mother, Dean is in a state of limbo, feeling creative and interpersonal blockage. Scenes welcome accompaniment or connection from his simple black ink drawings that reflect this mindstate and the arch of the film, which follows his hesitant efforts to find inspiration again. In his own life, Martin’s drawings are therapeutic, and they too serve as a salve to the viewer of the film, humorously crystallizing thoughts and preoccupations inherent to the human journey through an increasingly automatized and impersonal society. The appeal of this illustrative component is also euphoniously assisted by the warm acoustic soundtrack drawn from the flower bud folk of 70’s artists Pete Dello and Friends and Honeybus. In this way Dean is an aesthetic extension of films like Juno and channels the tender side of Judd Apatow.

Dean’s triumph is that it feels very much like a definitive statement of a young artist, much in the way Garden State did for Zach Braff. The two stories share the theme of artistic and vulnerable young men coping with the loss of one parent, highlighting the awkward disconnect with the surviving other and locate the healing that can take place with unexpected romance and reuniting with old friends. A pleasantly approachable charm coasts through like a leaf on breeze, thanks in no small measure to Kevin Kline, who is simply delightful as Dean’s endearingly out of touch father and Gillian Jacobs, who in evolving into quite the on screen heartbreaker, has shown an uncanny chemistry with whomever she is opposite.

Demetri Martin has said that the story of a young man coping with the loss of a parent and the oddities of finding someone you can be vulnerable around in the modern landscape comes from a very real place, the things he has had to deal with. Martin has had to find ways to smile though all of the grief of his own personal family life, having lost his father when he was twenty and gradually losing his mother to early onset alzheimer's over the last eight years, something he appears to be doing with grace. All of this seems like it would make for a sad film, but Martin’s first go at filmmaking is a comedy at heart. In one laugh out loud moment, Dean’s friend Eric (Rory Scovel) advises that you should aim for getting together with a girl you just met late at night, when her defenses are down, to which Dean responds “Yeah... I don’t wanna kill her, man. I want to date her.” With Dean, Demetri Martin reaches out to the audience with a light hand and invites us to smile with him through the inevitable tears, and laugh a lot at life’s oddities.

Author rating: 8.5/10

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