Friday, May 19, 2017

“Dean”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama, “Dean”, starring Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen. 


Dean (Martin) and his father Robert (Kline) are having difficulty dealing with the loss of their family member – Dean’s mother and Robert’s wife.  Suddenly, both men find their respective world turned upside down and without direction.  Robert decides he’ll sell the family’s New York house; it’s too big to live in by himself and besides, there are too many memories.  Dean, on the other hand, demurs; that house has memories he desperately wants to retain and neither wants nor needs more disruptions.  While Robert wants to meet with his son in order to discuss plans on how to proceed, Dean avoids it by taking this opportunity to make a business trip to Los Angeles.  

While in LA, Dean meets with an advertising agency that wants to hire him to make humorous illustrations for their client’s upcoming ad campaign.  Once he realizes the gig is not for him, Dean decides to return to NYC to finish his next book of cartoons.  But before he goes, Dean’s invited to a party where he runs into Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), a gorgeous blonde who seems to be aggressively flirting with him.  In no hurry to return to New York, Dean extends his Los Angeles trip to spend time with Nicky.  Meanwhile, Robert has hired Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a real estate agent to help sell his house.  The two find themselves working closely and eventually a mutual attraction develops.   

Ultimately, Dean and Nicky get to spend time alone right before he has to return to New York; although they both felt a strong connection to each other, their future together remains uncertain.  In the meantime, Robert and Carol continue to enjoy each other’s company.  But are both ready to go to the next level in their relationship?  Upon Dean’s return, Robert sells the house and moves into a smaller apartment.  However, there are still unresolved issues between father and son.  Can the two put their differences aside to support each other in their grieving process or will they forever remain estranged?


While it may sound somewhat oxymoronic to describe the surprisingly pleasant “Dean” as a comedy about death, loss and grieving, that is precisely what it is.  Deal with it.  In fact, if that doesn’t sound sufficiently confusing, the movie is actually a romantic comedy.  Before you say, “You can’t do that!”, remember that people also said about “Hogan’s Heroes” that you can’t make a situation comedy about a Nazi prisoner of war camp.  Sometimes, “experts” are just plain wrong.  Let’s just stop right there lest a diatribe on the 2016 presidential election proceeds. 

The reason why “Dean” works as well as it does is precisely because the jokes are genuinely funny.  Judging from this movie alone, it would seem like writer-director-star Demetri Martin is a hybrid of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach as far as his filmmaking style is concerned.  While some may argue that it is unfair to Martin to make such a comparison, it is meant as a compliment – but this young man certainly has a very long way to go in order to be favorably compared to these men in his entire body of work.  We will just have to see what the future holds for Martin. 

One of the more amazing things about “Dean” is that not only did Martin write-direct-co-produce and star in this movie, he also took a credit for creating the illustrations as well – and arguably, these inventive and clever cartoons are worth seeing the film all by themselves.  While Martin doesn’t exactly seem to break any new ground as a director, his screenplay is truly just as funny and unique as the drawings themselves (that said, however, there are some moments that don’t ring true.  For example, are we really to believe that Dean’s father, a professional engineer, can’t figure out how to use a cell phone?).  Also, although it could be said that acting isn’t necessarily Martin’s greatest strength, the performances by Kline and Steenburgen are delightful. 

Dean (2016) on IMDb

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

“Paris Can Wait”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new romantic comedy, “Paris Can Wait”, starring Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.


When a married woman accepts an offer from a charismatic Frenchman to drive her to Paris, will she succumb to his charms or will she remain faithful to her husband?


While in Cannes joining her husband Michael (Baldwin) on a business trip, Anne (Lane) is suffering ear problems.  Michael is too preoccupied with the exigencies of his film production business, so he doesn’t have the opportunity to spend time with Anne, much less come to her aid regarding her ear problem.  Anne, meanwhile, has also been yearning for a vacation – something which Michael has been way too busy for in recent years.  When problems on a current production require Michael to head to Budapest before proceeding to Paris, Anne agrees to tag along – but when her ear condition precludes her from flying, she instead decides to head straight to Paris on her own.

Originally planning to take a train from Cannes, Anne changes her mind when Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael’s business partner, offers to drive her to Paris himself.  Not long into her trip, Anne believes she’s made an egregious mistake.  First, Jacques’ car is old, making it questionable as to whether or not it will survive the journey.  Also, it turns out Jacques isn’t exactly the world’s best driver.  Lastly – and most important – Jacques is not taking a direct route to Paris.  While Anne may be in a hurry to get there, he is obviously not.  Jacques takes her on quite a few side excursions along the way.

Jacques turns out to be quite the connoisseur on a great many things.  These detours open up Anne to a whole new world she would not have otherwise experienced:  great architecture, fabulous scenery and most of all, delicious food and wine.  But along the way, it becomes clear that Jacques may have some ulterior motives on this seemingly generous offer to drive Anne to Paris.  A lonely man who never married, it appears as though he may be trying to seduce Anne and possibly even steal her away from Michael.  Upon finally reaching Paris, Jacques makes Anne an offer to rendezvous with him.  Will Anne leave her husband of 20 years to have an affair with this man?


“Paris Can Wait” is certainly a pleasant enough little trifle, but if you are going to extend the food metaphor (albeit painfully), it is more of a light croissant rather than the heartier cassoulet; it is enjoyable in the moment, but quickly forgettable.  Lane seems to be trying to reprise her success in “Under The Tuscan Sun” with a Gallic twist, combining it with a bit of “Eat, Pray, Love” (with considerable emphasis on the eat).  The main reason to see “Paris Can Wait” – should you choose do to so – is for the breathtaking French sites (especially the countryside) and the mouthwatering shots of the sundry foods.

The biggest problem with “Paris Can Wait” is its flimsy script.  Its dialog can be a bit predictable, including and especially when it comes to the rather awkward and clumsy attempts to impart bits of exposition with the audience.  Additionally, the story lacks any real conflict; although the two face minor setbacks along the way, there is no true antagonist that must be overcome by the two leads either individually or collectively.  Therein lies a serious issue the movie cannot overcome; one never gets the sense of impending doom for either Lane’s character or her marriage. 

But of course the story behind the movie is what’s attracting the most attention.  “Paris Can Wait” was written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola; at the age of 81, she’s making her debut as both a screenwriter and feature film director.  Despite her familial connections, it’s nevertheless rather impressive that anyone of such an age would take on such a challenge.  At this point, it almost seems facetious to talk about her “career” as a filmmaker, but in the event she does attempt another motion picture, hopefully it would be something more compelling than a fantasy vacation.  

Paris Can Wait (2016) on IMDb