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A Sweet Romantic Comedy in ‘Dean’

Stellar cast makes this indie comedy shine

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 1 hour 27 minutes

Director: Demetri Martin

Stars: Kevin Kline, Demetri Martin, Mary Steenburgen

If you’re looking for an antidote to the latest blow-’em-up blockbuster, it’s hard to find a sweeter, less explosive film in theaters right now than Dean, which won best narrative feature at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Costarring Mary Steenburgen and Kevin Kline, Dean is the writing and directing debut of Demetri Martin, 43, who also plays the title role: a cartoonist in Brooklyn who’s silently suffering after the recent death of his mother. He wallows in grief while drawing simple, wry cartoons (most of them featuring the Grim Reaper).

When his father (Kline) decides to sell the family home, Dean is baffled and distraught. “We’ve never really understood each other,” he observes, “so why start now?”

He heads to California, ostensibly to pursue a dot-com job, but really to avoid having to discuss the house with Dad.

This is a romantic comedy, so of course Dean and a girl meet cute at a Los Angeles party — and yes, she’s quirky and lovely. And in a parallel storyline, sparks fly between Robert and his adorable real estate agent, Carol (Steenburgen). Their midlife courtship is the film’s most compelling — Carol recognizes Robert’s grip on the past as a daunting roadblock. Both Kline, 69, and Steenburgen, 64, are terrific.

And Martin, a former contributor to The Daily Show and writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien, portrays the awkward Dean with appealing, understated humor. When Robert wonders why his son doesn’t reunite with a former girlfriend — “You guys were so good together!” — Dean deadpans, “You should see us apart. We’re really great.”

It’s no spoiler to note that father and son begin to accept and temper their grief, reengaging with the world (and each other). It’s a story about learning to live and love again at any age, despite our sorrows — a hopeful message. Sometimes it’s nice to know from the start that you’ll be leaving the theater with a smile.