DEAN was unseen, buried at 224th place among the 2016 crop, a paltry gross of $254,536 insult to injury against a modest $950,000 cost. A shame, because the sweet-natured little comedy with a touch of pain beneath its laughs is a real winner. The feeling generated is akin to combing through a pile of big, extravagantly festooned boxes of socks and expensive toys that don’t work to uncover a small, lovingly wrapped package with a surprisingly neat and thoughtful present that says someone really does know you.
Brooklyn resident and cartoonist ‘Dean Anderson’ (Demetri Martin) is adrift. His ex-fiancée is getting married and Dean is tapped as “second-best man“. His widowed father (Kevin Kline) is selling the family home, further unmooring Dean, still grieving the death of his mother. On a trip to L.A. for a job interview, Dean is taken in tow by buddy ‘Eric’ (Rory Scovel), who insists on showing him how stacked with possibilities Los Angeles is for hooking up. During that clumsy search Dean meets ‘Nicky Hoey’ (Gillian Jacobs) at a party. He begins to fall for her (easy to see why), while back in New York, his Dad looks to be sparking something with his realtor (Mary Steenburgen).
Unlike most meet-sweet rom-coms, this one has wisdom to go with wit, showing that wishes and wants don’t always wrap up tidily. a It also keeps the dramedy material (grief & loss) to just the right level, so it plucks heartstrings without breaking them over your head. Dean, Nicky, Dad & the agent, Eric (and his cat) are all believable, and so likable that you are engaged with them rather than just being simply bemused by the joke setups. Self-effacing and droll, Martin is smart without being smug, baffled & buffeted without being clownish. Jacobs is a total charmer, bright and clear, attractive but attainable (one can dream), Scovel is a wingman with heart. Kline & Steenburgen come tailor-made.
Above all, it’s a coup for Demetri Martin—he wrote it, directed (first time), co-produced, and did all the hilarious drawings to boot. He wisely kept it in check to a tight 94 minutes, providing sharp turns from Ginger Gonzaga (Nicky’s tart-tongued friend), Briga Heelan (‘Becca’, gone batcrazy in La La), Reid Scott (Dean’s pal who marries the former flameout), Kate Berlant (chatty-cathy on airplane) , Christine Woods (Dean’s ex-fiancée), Beck Bennett (‘Trevor’, smarmy CEO of ‘appar@us’). Nice soundtrack, too.