His feature film writing and directing debut, “Dean,” didn’t end stand-up comic, TV writer and sometime-actor Demetri Martin’s career. But truth be told, I had to look up who the dude was after watching it.
It’s a lifeless, nearly laughless rom-com about grief (kind of) which cast its well-over-40 star as a thirtyish cartoonist looking for love after losing his mother. And whatever assorted off-brand film festivals said about “Dean” and Demetri in it, he’s way out of his depth.
He has the title role, a pen-and-ink cartoonist of “The New Yorker” school, suffering writer’s block and avoiding his widowed dad (Kevin Kline).
But they’re both kind of dodging the grieving process. Dean’s mom died a withering death (we gather), Dean gave up on his fiancé and has gone fetal without curling up in a ball.
Dad? He’s an engineer. He’s working this loss “like a problem to be solved” — reading self-help books, seeing a therapist, but shut-down.
The phone-call dodging can only go on so long. But when they reconnect, they don’t — reconnect.
Dad strains to make jokes about the kid’s ’70s bowl cut — “I haven’t seen your forehead in 15 years.” He says the sorts of awful screenwriting cliches parents say after a break-up.
“I always liked Michelle (Christine Woods). You guys were good together.”
“You should see us apart.”
Dean struggles through his best friend’s wedding, where he has to accept that a boorish dolt has been promoted to “co-best man.” And avoiding Dad’s calls as he preps to sell the New York home Dean grew up in requires extreme measures. He has to fly to LA for an ad agency meeting over using his drawings for a viral body spray campaign.
Beck Bennett of “Saturday Night Live” stands out as a stereotypical hipster “creative,” shallow and insulting and here for a single scene.
But that’s kind of the rule, here. A few players on the periphery make an impression because the leads never do, especially Martin.
Gillian Jacobs (TV’s “Community”) is the fetching blonde Dean spies at a party and upends his plans to stick around and get to know. But her insufferably rude bowl-cut blocker best friend (Ginger Gonzaga) is the one who registers.
The not-late/never-quite-great Zach Braff made better versions of movies like this — thin, sensitive dramedies that lean on their soundtrack like a crutch. “Sensie” alt-pop, Braff called it — quasi-morose, heartfelt ditties which you’ll have to stay through the credits to identify, because they’re more a “Look who’s on my playlist” than any meaningful contribution to the film.
Which staggers along, trying to pair up Dean’s flirtation with Nicky with Dad’s backing into something with his cute new realtor (Mary Steenburgen).
It’s all pro forma, barely an original thought in it. And it’s neither funny nor sweet.
So while the TV work continues (sort of), if you ever wondered “Whatever happened to Demetri Martin,” here it is.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material
Cast: Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen, Rory Scovel, Ginger Gonzaga and Beck Bennett
Credits: Written and directed by Demetri Martin. A BS Films.Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33