Martin’s “Dean” Is A Subtle and Sweet Directorial Debut

By Scott Kurland

Film: Dean

Starring: Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Rory Scovel, and Mary Steenburgen

Rated R

Director: Demetri Martin

It always fascinates me when stand-up comedians break out of their comfort zone and venture off into other areas of entertainment you wouldn’t normally expect.  Never in a million years did I think that comedian Bill Burr would be interested in creating an R-rated animated series on Netflix. As for Jordan Peele, who would have guessed that he would make one of the best thrillers of 2017? All that said, I’m not surprised comedian Demetri Martin from “The Daily Show” and “We Bare Bears” made his directorial debut with “Dean.” I missed seeing “Dean” when it premiered in April at the Boston Independent Film Festival. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

     “Dean” stars Martin as the titular Dean; a famous humorist and author/illustrator going through a mini crisis. Dean’s mother has passed away and both Dean and his father Robert (Kevin Kline) are at a loss. Robert grieves by going to therapy, reading self help books, and at last, he comes to the realization that he must sell his house. Dean on the other hand, now has writer’s block due to his inability to cope with this sudden loss. On top of that, he was demoted from Best Man at his best friend’s wedding to second Best Man. Rather than help his father sell the family homestead, Dean decides to run away. Robert is left alone and falls for his realtor (Mary Steenburgen), while Dean goes to LA to crash with his friend Eric (Rory Scovel). In LA,Dean falls for a manic-pixie dream girl named Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) who is also suffering. Can these characters help one another get through this thing we call life? Or will the death of the matriarch also mark the death of Deans relationship with his father?

Martin was smart in his decision to make this a small independent film. “Dean” is like a nice sorbet. The subject matter is hard to swallow, yet it’s very sweet and charming. As a director, Martin seems to struggle in the second act which causes a tonal shift going into the third act. We get a lot of Dean, but I found myself wanting to see more of

Kline as his father

. His story is slightly more charming than Martin’s. I find that if you want a movie to be better, just add Kevin Kline. He has a quiet pain to him in this film that is beautiful to watch; pain that will eventually heal him. Martin’s script is solid, but I was not as entranced by Dean's story as I should have been. I liked elements of Dean’s struggle, (i.e. his meeting  with an ad firm where they pitch him a nightmare of a commercial to animate). The way Martin writes himself out of that situation is brilliant. However, there’s so many awkward moments in Dean’s journey that take you out of the film.

Besides Kline, I enjoyed Rory Scovel as Dean’s friend Eric. He reminded me of Tony Roberts from “Annie Hall.” Scovel’s character has so many quirks that I found myself fascinated by this womanizing-cat-lover. The same can be said about Gillian Jacobs, who I am convinced is now born to play the lovable, damaged-woman-with-a heart-of-gold character. I am always delighted when I see her in a movie, and “Dean” is no exception.

                “Dean” can get lost at times in itself, but the film has a lot of heart and wonderful characters. Martin knows how to counter a bad situation with a slice-of-life twist. Not to mention Kline’s performance is award-worthy and should be remembered come award season. If you’re looking for a nice, peaceful date night movie, see “Dean.”

“Dean” is now playing in Kendall Square, but it is worth searching for elsewhere.

REVIEW RATING: B

scott kurlandComment