A couple weeks ago I took up one of those Facebook challenges. Each day (for 10 days) the ‘challenged’ was to show a picture from a movie that had an impact on me personally but leave no reason why or any other explanation. These did not have to be the “Greatest” movies of all time or anything like that, which was fine with me. I was also supposed to nominate a new Facebook friend each day to take on the same challenge. That part I refused to do because I don’t like throwing others into those kinds of frays. Silly me, I don’t want to be like the parent who tries to peddle their daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies to co-workers. No thanks on that.
So as the first 9 days rolled on, my film list included “Network”, “Ordinary People”, “Tender Mercies”, “The Godfather,” “Good Will Hunting”, “Citizen Kane”, “Hannah & Her Sisters,” “Brokeback Mountain” & “Waking Ned Devine.” For different reasons, each of these movies affected me personally and that’s why I proudly posted them.
But it was my last pick, Demetri Martin’s “Dean” that I wanted to write about or give a further “explanation.” Martin wrote, directed and starred in this movie. Late last year I mentioned this film as a new favorite of mine. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t some mega-selling movie that gobbled up awards or nominations when it was released a couple of years ago. What matters is what I got out of it personally, how I was impacted by this small movie.
Dean is a twenty something cartoonist trying to get over the recent death of his mother. Meanwhile Dean’s father (Kevin Kline) is coping with his wife’s passing by selling the family home in Brooklyn and relocating to New York City. Dean travels to L.A. for a job interview and to meet up with friends there. He then falls for a young woman who introduces her name by saying “It starts with an “N” and ends with ‘icky’.” Dean and Nicky (played by Gillian Jacobs) have an awkward start to their relationship but they casually bond and click. Heck, I fell for Nicky’s quirkiness and saw how Dean could do the same.
Dean himself has a dry wit who says funny things to his friends that he just sees as simple truthful observations. I saw his humor and persona aligned with my own. (We often gravitate towards those who are like us and that would be the case here.)
There’s more to the story including Dean’s father’s tentative courting of his real estate agent played by Mary Steenburgen. Dean and his dad continue to navigate through their grief, albeit in different ways. Without spoiling things, the words that end the film are touching without being sappy and wise without being pompous. It’s a perfect close to a story about love, loss and hope.
Dean’s personal revelation culled from his mother’s passing was something I’ve been looking to find for many years. In fact I was searching so long I actually gave up on locating it. Here in my middle years not only have I lost most of my family members, I’ve also experienced the deaths of six non-relatives, most at very young ages, who meant as much to me as family.
In Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 film “Grand Canyon,” Steve Martin’s movie producer character had a great line (told to Kevin Kline, ironically) when he said, “All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” I’m not sure that’s true but in the case of “Dean” I found an answer to the riddle of missing special people in my life. The impact of that answer makes this movie more than worthy of being on my ‘personally significant’ list.
If you get the chance, catch “Dean” on DVD from your library or on a streaming service, cable, whatever. I’m not saying you’ll get out of it what I did but you’ll like the movie nonetheless…