There’s no question that (a) dying is a part of life, (b) we’re all gonna get there and (c) there’s nothing like a little wit and levity to brighten our awareness of the inevitable. And yes, Dick Johnson Is Dead has ratings of 100% and 89% on RT and Metacritic, respectively.
The user scores on these aggregate sites, however, are somewhat lower — 7.4 on Metacritic, 8.1 on RT. And that’s where the real truth lies.
Never, ever trust critics when it comes to films like this. They’re not allowed to be honest about their deep-down feelings about anything, and they know it and so do readers. Which is one of the ways in which Hollywood Elsewhere is different.
I watched my father and mother approach death and deal with the physical and mental decline aspects, and they weren’t especially happy about it, I can tell you. At the very end my mother just said “fuck it” and refused to eat or even talk with me or Jett when we last visited her. She just wanted it to be over.
I’m sorry but I’d rather contemplate life and all its myriad intrigues, expectations and pitfalls than the absolute finality of “lights out and adios muchachos”. And I really, really don’t want to submit to a meditation about old-age dementia.
If a deep dive into old age is required, give me Stephen Walker and Bob Cilman‘s Young At Heart (’07). I loved this film, and so did my mom when I finally managed to show it to her.
I’m not refusing to watch Dick Johnson Is Dead. I’m actually nudging myself in that direction by the very act of writing this riff.
But at the same time I’m a bit like Terrence Stamp in The Hit — philosophically or even serenely accepting of death on a certain level, but when the proverbial John Hurt figure pulls out the gun and says “we’re gonna do it now, Willy,” my reaction would be “not now…it’s tomorrow…we have to get to Paris first…you’re not doing the job…not now!”
Keith Watson’s Slant review: “A drawback to Johnson’s deliberately gimmicky style—which includes glitzy visions of Dick in heaven surrounded by notable personages as diverse as Frederick Douglass, Sigmund Freud, and Bruce Lee—is that it doesn’t allow us to access her father as a person. We feel his warmth and his abiding love for his family, but we learn relatively little of his personal history beyond the highlights.
“Dick’s attitude toward his own death is so breezy and his relationship with Johnson so frictionless that the film can at times feel remarkably undramatic.”