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'Dean' explores the relationship between humor and grief
Demetri Martin in Dean. - photo by Josh Terry
DEAN 2 stars Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Rory Scovel, Mary Steenburgen; PG-13 (language and some suggestive material); Broadway

Early in Dean, the 30-something protagonist is at a public library when a child walks by wearing his same sweater. At another point, the protagonists father wryly comments that his son is an adult numerically. In a way, Dean is a portrait of a generation that has struggled to let go of the young part of the term young men. But mostly, Dean is about a father and son coming to grips with the loss of the woman who brought them together.

Demetri Martin plays Dean, a New York cartoonist whose work has taken a dark turn ever since his mothers death. Hes broken his engagement to his girlfriend, Michelle (Christine Woods), and even at supposedly happy occasions like a best mans speech at his best friends marriage Dean just cant seem to have things break his way.

Deans father, Robert (Kevin Kline), is dealing with his grief in his own way: by selling the familys longtime home in Brooklyn. Dean and his father were never very close, and the possibility of no longer having the family home strains their relationship even further. On the upside at least for Robert a pretty real estate agent named Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is offering some romantic light at the end of the grief tunnel.

Determined to get away from his problems, Dean accepts his friend Eric's (Rory Scovel) offer to visit him across the country in Los Angeles. But after a few West Coast missteps including a discouraging meeting with a tech startup that wants to use Deans cartoons in its ad campaign Dean is just about to return home in defeat when he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) at a party.

Nicky is a grounded breath of fresh air compared with the shallow social climbers surrounding Dean, and even though she always seems to have her rude friend Jill (Ginger Gonzaga) in tow, Dean decides to skip his flight home and stick around for a while.

Dean and Robert have been lonely for a long time, and theres nothing like the potential for a new relationship to offer a little hope. Dean definitely has an element of romantic comedy, and with standup veteran Martin in the protagonist role (he also wrote and directed the film), there are plenty of funny moments scattered through the films 94-minute run time.

At the same time, Dean isnt really a date movie, and the machinations of its plot have a lot more to do with Dean and Roberts relationship than anything else. Dean has some very tender elements and will have a lot to say for anyone who is dealing with or has ever dealt with the death of a loved one.

Its an interesting fit for Martin, whose inventive illustration-based comedy has always come with a fun deadpan flavor. Early on, theres almost a Woody Allen quality to Dean, and for the first half-hour you almost feel as if you are watching a 21st-century incarnation of the famed New York comic ranting against the way technology has taken over our lives.

Theres also a sense that, even though Deans various elements work on their own, that the complete film still hasnt quite come together. Some elements like the aforementioned wedding meltdown feel a little forced, and Dean often feels as if its still searching for its own meaning.

It may not be the first movie you run off to the theater to see probably not on a first date, anyway but its high points are high enough to justify a look.

Dean" is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material; running time: 94 minutes.
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