SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! As much as I like dark comedies, I enjoy dark documentaries just as much. From documentarians Erik Osterholm and Abby Ellis, My Dead Dad is the story of Olivia Gray, who is tasked with fulfilling her father’s odd dying wish over the holidays.
Olivia’s father is Christopher Gray, an eccentric New York Times columnist who wrote about the equally eccentric architecture of New York City. His work in the times and on public television garnered Gray a cult-like following as he would write not only about the architecture but also about the people who lived within the architecture.
Now the dying wish. The film opens with Olivia preparing for a very strange trip to Washington, DC, where she is to pick up her deceased father. That wish was for Christopher Gray’s body to be de-fleshed, his bones assembled and articulated, and donated to his high school in Martha’s Vineyard.
“That wish was for Christopher Gray’s body to be de-fleshed, his bones assembled and articulated…”
My Dead Dad follows Olivia’s journey to pick up and, in a way, confront her dead dad…or at least the feelings that have been pent up inside her for all this time. Her “tour” takes her to a visit with her brother, who had been somewhat distant from his father. Then to a family holiday gathering, where her young children get to see their grandfather in his skeletal state.
My Dead Dad is a weird documentary. I supposed if I were told to pick up the bones of my father and take them on a road trip, I, too, would want to document that journey. Filmmakers Ellis and Osterholm craft a well-told story of Olivia’s journey. Having cameras follow her, Olivia is forced to vocalize her feelings in a way that she probably would not have without them. It’s almost as if his film is her way of working through her grief and loss.
There used to be a show on television called Real People. My Dead Dad reminds me of that show. While film and television tend to spotlight celebrities, Real People spotlighted the rest of America. Like most of us, Olivia is an average person given an extraordinary task. At some point in our lives, we’re forced out of our comfort zones to fulfill an incredible task.
My Dead Dad screened at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
"…a weird documentary."