Reiterates that it is not the destination that matters most but the journey.
Ken J. Adachi’s indie drama Dead Dad reiterates that it is not the destination that matters most but the journey. The destination in this case was trying to find the best place to spread their father’s ashes but how the siblings bonded during that time was far more significant. As serious as the film may sound it was often accompanied with humor making it an easy and enjoyable film to watch.
As the title hints at, Dead Dad begins when the father of three distant siblings suddenly passes away. It is easy to tell that the siblings have not kept in touch with one another over the years. This is first suggested when Russell Sawtelle (Kyle Arrington) is picking up his adopted brother Alex Sawtelle (Lucas K. Peterson) from the airport. Alex is expecting just a hand shake instead of a hug. In a less subtle way it is evident when we find out that Russell never even bothered to mention that he has a girlfriend to Alex.
It is not until the three decide to stop at the liquor store after the funeral that they begin to open up to one another and even bond. Their sister Jane Sawtelle (Jenni Melear), who goes by Chainsaw for some reason, decides that she is going to get shitfaced tonight, presumably to drink away her pain. As the drinks begin to add up for each of them, more is revealed about who their father really was.
What I found most interesting about their conversation is when each one of them comes up with a toast to say about their father before taking a shot of alcohol. The first two say little sentimental things about their father and wishing him well. But Alex was much more frank about it. He rambles on about how their father really was by saying that he was a bad example, weak and kind of a shithead.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Death Cab For Cutie songs, “Styrofoam Plates”. The song ends with the line, “I won’t join in the procession that’s speaking their peace using five-dollar words while praising his integrity and just ‘cause he’s gone it doesn’t change the fact that he was a bastard in life thus a bastard in death.” Ben Gibbard has said that the song came from a real life situation when he went to a friend’s funeral where everyone who spoke about the deceased said nice things but everyone knew it was all just fluff to be nice. Alex speaking so freely and honestly about this father reminded me exactly of this situation.
What the film ends up being about is trying to find the perfect goodbye to give their father. They each have their own idea of how his ashes should be distributed. During this process the three become closer than they ever have. It is strange how it takes the loss of someone to bring people together but that is often what happens.
It has been said that Dead Dad was made with only a $25,000 budget. The production value was really quite amazing given the small budget. The quality of the shots and editing were top notch. Not only was the production well done but it was utilized well. For example, the color saturation applied to the film was very low, setting the mood perfectly considering the subject matter.
If there was one thing Dead Dad did the best, it was that it balanced out the sentimental parts with healthy doses of comedy. The other reason why the film worked was how genuine it was. Even if you could not relate to the exact situation, you could at least to the wide range of emotions the characters went through in the short amount of time; resentment, nostalgia, excitement and frustration. It was a fine first feature from the filmmaker.