Title: Dead Dad
Director: Ken J. Adachi
Starring: Kyle Arrington, Jenni Melear, Lucas K. Peterson, Allyn Rachel, Ben Hethcoat, Brett Erlich
A fitful but engaging tale of familial drift and erratic reconnection, director Ken J. Adachi’s debut film, “Dead Dad,” exhibits a mature grasp beyond its years of the manner in which swallowed adolescent resentments pervert adult relationships. Shot over the course of a month and produced entirely from the funds of a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Dead Dad” is robustly emblematic of a certain slice of what I’ve coined “Silver Lake cinema,” ambling Los Angeles-set dramedies that — with a nod toward mumblecore and an indebted fist bump for Miranda July — are chiefly known for their aversion to programmatic dramatic pivot points and indulgence in mood.
When their father Nelson passes away, Alex (Lucas K. Peterson) and Jane (Jenni Melear) head back to Los Angeles, where their sibling Russ (Kyle Arrington) has remained, living with his girlfriend Hailey (Allyn Rachel). Nelson was a grumpy bastard and only intermittently attentive father, and the letter he leaves his kids (“You three little shits…”) doesn’t do much to bring everyone together peaceably. Russ resents the fact that his brother and sister went off and lived their lives, in essence leaving him to care for their dad. After an awkward funeral, the three try to sort through conflicted feelings, and figure out what to do with Nelson’s ashes.
For Adachi, working from a script co-written with Arrington, this means multiple alcoholic toasts involving inappropriate honesty, sensitively scored montages where characters do things like ride those quarter-fed kiddie rides outside of grocery stores, and the 1st birthday party of a hipster couple. If it sounds precious and twee, it at times is, but never insufferably so.
This is in large part because of its artful telling — the sun-kissed cinematography is warm, and enveloping — but also its solid cast. Peterson, as the more sardonic and removed brother, ably captures the demeanor of a guy who has built up soft but high interpersonal walls. The sympathetic, appealing Melear, meanwhile, is a ringer for a young Dana Plato. Together, the cast has a wonderful rapport, drawing viewers in.
Its realizations and revelations are small and its ending is too pat, to be sure, but “Dead Dad” is a delicate little arthouse bauble that augurs good things for the young talent involved. Part tantalizing road trip, part garden party sketch, part cyclical snapshot of passive-aggressive recrimination, it’s a look at the ups and downs that come with being part of a family.
NOTE: For more information, visit www.DeadDadMovie.com.
Written by: Brent Simon