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.