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It would be easy to discount Dead Dad as just another independent film,
made on the cheap by a bunch of talented, albeit relatively
inexperienced, young people. But to do so, would be a deep disservice
to this intimate, expertly crafted film. Recently debuting at the
Florida Film Festival in Orlando, I had the opportunity to take in this
fine feature, and I'm very glad that I did.
Independent film is at its best when it tells a tight, focused story that doesn't try to do too much or overreach. The audience can usually tell when a movie is trying to be sentimental for the sake of it, cheapening the overall tone of the film. Impressively, Dead Dad avoids this pitfall, something that is particularly surprising when you consider the subject matter of the movie.
Explaining what kind of film Dead Dad is difficult. At its core, it's a drama. One that centers around the unexpected death of the unseen father figure and the reunion between three estranged but not entirely unattached siblings who serve as co-leads in the film. The driving force of the movie is about finding an appropriate place for the siblings to spread their father's ashes, but the story is nowhere near as morose or depressing as it really could be.
Instead, Dead Dad operates under the strength of the chemistry of its young stars. Their relationship sometimes loving, sometimes resentful is nothing if not believable, which justifies the movie on its own. Scenes where they're doing nothing but drinking and reconnecting are among the most endearing moments of the film. It feels real - something that was clearly a priority for the filmmakers. Moreover, the fact that these actors are able to get the audience to believe them and take them seriously and empathize with them as individuals is even more amazing, if you keep in mind that the entire film was made in a handful of weeks.
From a technical standpoint, Dead Dad is, frankly, astounding. While the writing is very strong and the acting is honestly better than you'll see in some major motion pictures, everyone that I talked to after the premiere was raving about the production value of the movie. It was just beautifully shot and wonderfully edited. Featuring some fantastic set locations and innovative shot selection, Dead Dad is nothing if not pretty (even when it's not).
Perhaps the strongest endorsement that I can give to Dead Dad is that on the two hour drive home to St. Pete, I felt compelled to call my own sister and reconnect. It hadn't been too long, but it suddenly seemed more important than ever. If Dead Dad doesn't get a wide distribution, it'll be a shame, but I have an inkling that this won't be the last time you hear from Ken Adachi, Kyle Arrington, and the rest of the cast and crew.
If you have a chance to see Dead Dad, do so. This is what film making is supposed to be all about.
Saw the World Premier of this movie last night. How you can take a somber event and turn it such a dramatic yet hilarious film is sheer genius on the part of the cast and crew. Made for $25,000, the reason this film works is we learn that like so many married couples, Dad had died years ago when his wife had passed and turned into an angry, depressed pill and alcohol consuming shell of himself. His kids had long since distanced themselves and the death, which always a shock to the system, did not lay them into a deep dark place as he was now just gone physically as well. The interpersonal relationships that are explored between siblings and friends coming together under odd circumstances, especially as the same week as the funeral is the celebration of a baby's first year. The camera-work was intimate when it needed to be, the shot framing was exquisite when it needed to be. Director Ken Adachi was deft at avoiding clichés and keeping the audience involved. The stellar acting from the 3 siblings were nuanced and subtle, powerful and commanding when needed without ever going over the top. I'd be thrilled if I could make a movie this good my first time out.
I can't even begin to explain my love for this movie. I'm not even sure
how to articulate it. Honestly, I didn't want to like this movie -
before seeing it, I saw my hometown/homestate fully attached to it, I
saw people my age doing what most people only dream of. I wanted to
fault them, and I wanted to leave the theater with a list of ways the
movie could have been better.
However, I couldn't do that. I couldn't come up with one thing I would change, one thing I would like better. This movie is incredibly beautiful, realistic, hard-hitting, and almost tangible. After the movie, you feel like you've met these people, these characters, before. You feel like you've known them for years.
The acting is amazing - the chemistry, the body language, the facial expressions, the quick wit (when appropriate), the believable emotional displays. I cannot come up with one negative thing. The picture quality is superb - the angles, the clarity, the focus (or lack), the panning - it's all completely complimentary; showing all the good things about the actors/characters, the locations, and the moods.
I was incredibly happy and honoured to attend the premier at the Florida Film Festival - I was even more stoked to attend the Q&A as press/photographer. During the Q&A, I found myself in momentary lapses, forgetting to take pictures - I was captivated by the cast/crew, and the stories/facts behind the movie and the processes.
Without spoiling the movie, all I can say is that, in one way or another, we can all relate to at least one of the characters. We've all experienced loss, family/siblings, and the tribulations of the latter. You can't help but feel by the end of the movie - just feel something; whether empathy for the characters, nostalgia for your past, or determination to do something about your current familial situation. This movie takes you through all the emotions, and yet, at the end; you're not upset that it took the scenic route to get you there.
This is a great movie (in my list of "movies to see before you die", now), and I truly look forward to more from the cast and crew.
The problem with family dramas (particularly family dramas that deal
with death and grief) is that they usually fall victim to the
melodramatic. It's a slippery slope and there's just something
inherently natural about death being treated with that heightened level
of emotion. Countless films have fallen victim. "Dead Dad" is not one
Here's a film that's as light as a feather. Now, that's not to say there isn't substance - it just means that it's treated so effortlessly and so naturally that you lose track of the fact that you're watching a film and not a real conversation or interaction. The story is a simple one: Three siblings father together after the death of their father and have to decide what to do with his ashes. That's a synopsis for a website but the film goes much deeper than that. We learn who these characters are, what makes them tick and what makes them work and not work with one another. We learn about their father through their recollections and end up with a firm hold on the family dynamic.
The film that came to mind, as I watched "Dead Dad", was a film from several years back -- "The Puffy Chair" by the Duplass Brothers. It was a film about brothers on a road trip to deliver a large chair to their father for his birthday. It was an unconventional family picture that had the same tone to it as "Dead Dad". I remember having this great sense of optimism after watching that film and I got the same feeling here. Honesty in film is difficult to achieve. It's difficult to earn and it's difficult to sustain. "Dead Dad" wears its heart on its sleeve but it's a beating heart and that's what makes it work.
I highly recommend you check out this picture. Don't expect fireworks, at least not the kind that light up the sky. This movie isn't about explosions and cinematic trickery -- it's about taking a family, opening them up, seeing what makes them tick and then putting them back together again. And I had one hell of a rewarding time experiencing it.
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