At the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, a small and personal comedy titled Dean slayed the competition and won a top prize for its writer-director-star Demetri Martin. CBS Films wisely picked it up and is now opening it right in the heart of summer blockbuster season. If you are looking for a little respite from the non-stop assault of comic book fare, sequels, dumb comedies and the same old stuff in the warm-weather months, you should head out to this little triumph. It’s a funny, heartfelt and wonderful new comedy that marks the emergence of Martin as an original and special filmmaking talent and triple threat.
As I say in my video review above, Martin’s smart filmmaking instincts have served up the summer’s most unexpected delight, hopefully one that doesn’t get buried under everything else and finds an audience that will definitely like what they see here. Martin, who starred in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock and is a stand-up comic in his day job, gets a little semi-autobiographical in some ways as a young man whose mother has just passed away. He and his father, played by the always great Kevin Kline, are going through the stages of grief as dad contemplates selling the family home against Dean’s wishes.
For Dean, he is looking ahead to a new stage in life and flies out to Los Angeles for a job interview as an illustrator at a hip ad agency. There he meets a new girl (Gillian Jacobs), striking up a tentative but promising new relationship. Meanwhile, Dad has some warm moments with the real estate broker (Mary Steenburgen) who is handling the house sale, and there is also the tentative beginnings of a new relationship for him as well. Life gets in the way on both fronts and the action switches between the two coasts where Martin managed to effectively shoot this small-budget affair in under a month.
It is a brilliantly accomplished directing debut and never goes for cheap laughs or obvious plot contrivances. In fact, Martin skillfully uses his own illustrations — pencil-drawn views of life — as story points and it works nicely throughout. Dean in some ways will remind you of the kind of films we see from Woody Allen, Wes Anderson or a Noah Baumbach, but it has its own rhythm and style as a movie to fall in love with — the kind that actually makes you feel good about movies and life again.
Producers are Giles Andrew, Charles Denton, Jessica Latham and Elliott Watson. CBS Films opens Dean on Friday and rolls it out slowly over the summer.
Do you plan to see Dean? Let us know what you think.