There’s some people who seem to have life happen to them as opposed to them living their lives. For whatever reason they’ve checked out. They’re not in the building. They’ve gone away. That’s true of Dean Saris (Demetri Martin, also writer and director of the film). Since his mother’s death Dean has checked out of his own life. He broke up with his fiancee, he’s becoming estranged from his dad (Kevin Kline), he’s got a series case of artist block, his best friend seems to be replacing him and now his dad is selling the family home. Running away seems a ‘good’ answer to his problems, so he takes up an offer to visit LA. It’s there that he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) – but can a person really be the answer to that feeling that something is missing?
That’s the premise for Dean but there’s much more going on under the surface. From the opening credits onwards there’s the comedic cartoons that Martin is known for, they play a huge role in the film by enhancing various ongoings and also literally illustrating how Dean is feeling.This is very much a dramedy with the film littered with lines such as ‘our relationship eroded over time – like a coastline.’, ‘Echo Park? Well… sounds very empty.’ and ‘That wasn’t the conga line. I was doing the Hare Krishna thing.’ The end result is a film that lightly handles some very heavy and very important themes.
Love, loss and longing all make an appearance – never weighting the film but elevating it even further as they’re all such universal experiences. We don’t have to have experienced exactly the same things as Dean but we’ll have experienced a variant of them and coped in our own ways. The focus is on the dealing with these things, or the consequences of not dealing with them. As a society we’re wired to automatically say ‘I’m OK’ when asked how we’re doing. No matter how bad we’re feeling we try to project a with-it image to the extent we may start to believe it ourselves. Or we try so desperately hard to be with-it we detach ourselves from being present in our lives as it’s just too hard. There’s a great comfort in seeing how these aspects play out in the movie, in knowing that we’re not the only ones who find the most obvious things the hardest to deal with.
Dean mentions early on that his first book – he’s currently experiencing difficult second book syndrome – was described as ‘full of whimsy’ yet he’s okay with that. It’s a phrase you could describe the film with, along with quirky, although both adjectives seem far too loaded to suit describing this film. They almost sound euphemistic when that’s really not the case. Martin’s script examines 21st Century life in a knowing, poking fun but never being ill-meaning. We live in a world forces self-preservation and self-presentation to clash on a constant basis. Martin uses the self-deprecating and awkwardness of his comedy style to allow us to muse and be amused by such all-too familiar ridiculousness. The end product is a film that will strike a chord and surprise you with just how meaningful it really is.
Dir: Demetri Martin
Scr: Demetri Martin
Cast: Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Reid Scott, Mary Steenburgen, Rory Scovel
Prd: Giles Andrew, Elliott Watson, Jessica Latham, Demetri Martin, Charles James Denton
DOP: Mark Schwartzbard
Music: Mark Noseworthy, Orr Rebhun
Run time: 93 minutes
Demetri Martin’s directorial debut film ‘Dean’ is available now on digital download in the UK
Check out this clip from Dean