Aiming for that narrow band of the bullseye between Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, comedian Demetri Martin’s directorial debut is a likable, slightly lightweight comedy about loss, grief, love, and the unbreakable bonds between fathers and sons. It helps a lot that the father in this case is played by Kevin Kline.
Martin, a bemused, deadpan figure with a mop of dark hair and the wardrobe of an arrested-development hipster, stars as Dean—a Brooklyn illustrator whose mother has recently passed away. Making matters worse, he recently broke up with his fiancée and he’s in a creative funk. Not that you’d know it. One of the few original ideas that Martin’s film has going for it are its absurd, grim reaper-obsessed pen-and-ink interludes, where we see all of Dean’s inner demons and insecurities spilling out through a felt-tip marker. Otherwise, this sprawling series of bittersweet comic episodes is pretty familiar stuff. He gets into a pissing match with his fellow best man at his friend’s wedding. He sulks over his father’s decision to sell the family home he grew up in. He travels to Los Angeles and meets a seemingly perfect woman (Gillian Jacobs) that doesn’t quite play out as expected.
Of course, familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, these are themes we all deal with at one time or another. But like his sketches, Dean feels more like a doodle than a portrait. Part of the reason is that Martin isn’t an actor (a drawback that becomes especially stark when he shares scenes with Kline), he’s a stand-up. And, as a result, the movie comes across like a bunch of “bits” when it really should be getting at deeper emotions and truths.
Then again, Woody Allen, another comedian-turned-writer/director, ran into that same problem back at the beginning of his career. And he ended up doing okay. B–