I’ve heard it said that children don’t really grow up until their parents die, and Ken J. Adachi’s Dead Dad portrays the very beginnings of that maturation process for the three Sawtelle siblings. Since his estranged siblings, sister Jane (Jenni Melear) and adopted brother Alex (Lucas K. Peterson), left town years ago, Russell (Kyle Arrington) is the unfortunate one to have found his dead father after his father’s suicide. It falls on Russell’s shoulders to get things organized for the funeral, cremation and other business.
Russ isn’t the most responsible of adults, however. He’s recently been fired by a band he drummed for, and he seems to stumble at every juncture, whether it be in supplying a picture of his dad for the funeral or getting his sister Jane directions to the funeral home. All the while, Russell’s relationship with his girlfriend Hailie (Allyn Rachel) is buckling under the strain.
Of course, if Russell is having a rough time, Jane and Alex aren’t faring much better. Jane doesn’t make it to the funeral on time due to Russell’s lack of help, and Alex’s disapproval of Russell’s handling of matters is barely concealed, even though no one expected him to attend the funeral anyway. Still, the three seem to put their immediate issues aside and bond over drunken memories, though it soon becomes clear that their time apart has also made them all very selfishly focused on only their own lives. When it comes time to decide what to do with the family home, and dad’s ashes, the three float in and out of tolerance for each other, each coping with the loss in their own way, often to the insensitivity to those around them as the group splinters.
As a drama about an estranged family coping with death, the film has an appropriately dry tone and measured pace. While there certainly is an outward journey to be had for each, particularly in the search for a place to spread dead dad’s ashes, the true journey is within. To that end, this film requires some true acting chops.
Which, thankfully, all involved have. While it may seem from the outset that Kyle Arrington’s Russell is the main focus of the film, it truly is about all three siblings, and everyone carries the emotional load equally. Even Allyn Rachel, who you’ll probably recognize from any number of commercials she’s been in recently, and Fred Stoller, as the funeral home director, while they don’t get as much screentime and exist mostly on the periphery, perform their brief moments with accomplished aplomb.
Visually, the film is crisp when it needs to be while also taking advantage of the aesthetics of shallow depth of field when warranted. While this look is becoming more and more common in indie film, as the equipment becomes cheaper and those wielding it become more knowledgeable, I’ll take this level of visual standard over the previous “everything is in focus and thus nothing stands out.” If nothing else, it’s a very good-looking film.
Overall, Dead Dad is an emotionally powerful film about death and growing up, so it may not be the type of film you sit down and watch if you’re just looking for some light entertainment. Universal situations and considerations abound, however, so it’d be hard for anyone who has gone through the death of a loved one not to relate in some capacity. At the same time, this is a film about growth, and those doing the growing are not always going to be the most likable all the time. There’s a character arc there for each, however, and whether you approve of how they start or end up, it all makes unfortunate sense along the way.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.