Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 27 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
It is a real joy to come across a comedy that really is for adults interested in real life issues rather than promoting alcohol and drug, penis and fart jokes! Written and directed by comedian Demitri Martin, it deals with death and loss, though not in as profound a way as the Emily Dickinson film A Quiet Passion. However, being a comedy, it is never morbid but there is a freshness to it thanks to the series of humorous simple cartoons, drawn by Dean, that are sprinkled throughout the film. I also enjoyed the film because it includes the wonderful Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen as a possible romantic pair.
Appropriately, the film begins in a cemetery where Dean (Martin) and his father Robert (Kline) are placing a bouquet of flowers on a grave. They are mourning the death of Dean’s mother, whose death nearly a year earlier has continued to plague them. Robert, an engineer, takes the practical route of his profession, coping with his loss by seeing a therapist and deciding to put their house up for sale. Dean, unfortunately, has been moping around, unable to finish his over-due second book of cartoons, and unwilling to talk about selling the house which contains so many happy memories.
He travels to L.A. for a job interview, but the way his two creepy would-be employers want to use his art proves so obnoxious that he walks out of their office without speaking a word. Throughout his sojourn in La La Land the film exhibits the same contrast between L.A. and New York as seen in Woody Allen’s films, all the former city’s denizens pictured as shallow and insincere flacks. He stays with longtime friend Eric (Rory Scovel), meets briefly Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) at a party in an embarrassing way, and, when he doesn’t hear from her for a while, boards a plane to return home. Suddenly seeing her text on his cell phone, he disembarks, setting out to join her. This leads to a road trip with Nicky, her friend Jill (who for a reason to become clear later disapproves of Eric pursing Nicky), and Eric, but…
Meanwhile, back in New York, his father Robert grows closer to the realtor listing and showing their house, Carol (Mary Steenburgen). He enjoys going out with her several times, but he is still not over his mourning. This is poignantly shown when, after an enjoyable night out, Carol asks him to come up. We can see by his face the conflicting emotions. He wants to, but something inside causes him to refuse. His emotions are still too entangled with the woman who had meant so much to him.
Dean returns to the East, and it is during this last portion that the film returns to its father and son thesis. The son grows a bit when his good friend tells him that his mother’s death is the “first big thing in your life you are never going to get over.” There are some things that cannot be changed and which must be accepted. Dean and Robert still have each other, each learning that the mourning period is more complicated and longer than expected—and it must be faced, not run from as in Dean’s case, before one can form a new romantic relationship and expect it to be stable. Neither filmmaker nor the characters seem to possess a mustard seed of faith, so they have little to console themselves with other than their own resources. As with so many of those viewing the film, this will have to do. The Psalmist, quoted above, because of his God, is assured that His “sorrow…sighing…and misery” are temporary. These three will pass for Dean and Robert too, but it will take longer for their power over them fade enough for them to bond with new lovers —well, in Robert’s case, maybe not so “new” a lover.
This review with a set of questions will be in the. 2017 issue of VP.