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/movies/1220870/dick-johnson-is-dead
Review of Dick Johnson Is Dead
by Jeff Light
Posted on August 4th, 2022
Neutral 6
Overall Rating
 
+
what sets this film apart is that it's essentially made of three components that we don't often see mixed: 1. straight documentary cinema verite' 2. documenting invented fantasy sequences 3. straight fantasy sequences i think what people undeniably respond to in this film are the straight documentary bits: the director herself talking with her dad, the titular dick johnson, about his progressing dementia and narrating her feelings. they come from a sort of very white, mild-mannered, northerner background where people don't go on about their feelings or lamenting their misfortunes. (notable that many film critics share a similar background, hence why so many have identified so hard with this?) therefore, when kirsten or her dad have a touching moment together, even though there is no outright weeping or grandiloquent musing, the depth of emotion that they are dealing with is apparent. the idea of filming dick getting accidentally killed in various ways seems like a bit of quirky fun. it's a way for father and daughter to share time together and be productive despite him retiring from his psychiatry practice. however, it felt a bit like a lost opportunity to me. for one, there really aren't that many sequences in the film (you've seen them all if you watched a trailer). secondly, they're all telegraphed rather clearly. i didn't actually laugh much in this film, despite the potential for black humor. comedy relies on setting up an audience and then giving them something unexpected. i would've loved if the deaths were integrated seamlessly into the film, where dick appears to be going about his day and then is suddenly killed. only after that would we back up and see all the behind-the-scenes setup. but the director is still developing her tone management, and these scenes are all too obvious. i might have smiled, but i never laughed. then there are the outright fantasy sequences, which seem to be a sort of vision of dick in heaven. honestly, i could've completely done without these. they were integrated into the film very haphazardly, sort of randomly breaking up the documentary so that apparently those involved wouldn't get too overwhelmed by the dourness of the subject. however, i watch films to be moved. i want to be overwhelmed. these sequences are beautifully filmed, but disconnected narratively. they could have served as great palate cleansers, if placed directly after each 'death'. so here's a structure that would've worked for me: -documentary setup of the premise -a sudden 'death' -dick goes to heaven...super slo-mo dancing commences -snap back to reality, he's not dead, we see the behind-the-scenes of filming that death -continue actual documentary of dick and daughter, another death comes out of nowhere later, etc. there are times when the film almost falls in to this, and for those moments it works well. however, the feeling you have at the end of this movie is that it was messy and disjointed. there are a couple of remarkable moments at the end which are all striking on their own, but also kind of fail to come together well. without spoiling it, they're essentially the biggest "reveal", the most gut-wrenching sorrow, and the biggest laugh. it's hard to enjoy these though, because of how they impact each other. i think a lot of critics watch so many movies that they tend to tune out unless something is messy and personal and different. this is certainly all of those things. however, a general audience will be much more appreciative of something clearly-executed and well-packaged. this isn't quite there. and side note: it's also not quite as honest as people would think. i watched it with my aging mom, both of us remembering taking care of her mom in her final years as she suffered from alzheimer's. there is so much more to dementia that is not shown here, so much that's heartbreaking and difficult to deal with. what's captured on camera by kristen is honestly the briefest glimpse into this, i think out of care to not show her dad in any kind of truly "diminished" way. i respect that viewpoint, but it leaves me feeling that this film is much fluffier and less substantial than it could be.
Jeff Light
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