Film Review – Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

Title – Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

Director – Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson)

Cast – Dick Johnson, Kirsten Johnson

Plot – Documentary filmmaker Kirsten Johnson and her father Dick begin making a film together in the wake of Dick’s deteriorating mental condition, a film that will prepare them both for the inevitable death that is to come.

“The idea that I might ever lose this man, is too much to bare”

Review by Eddie on 23/02/2021

Death and coming too terms with ones mortality has been explored numerous times across various cinematic mediums and genres but the subject has never really been tackled like it is here in the very personal and heartfelt Dick Johnson is Dead.

One of 2020’s most highly praised documentaries that has been distributed through Netflix, Johnson is a mix of humorous insight, deep and meaningful ponderings and intimate family explorations of director Kirsten Johnson’s life as a daughter dealing with her elderly father Dick’s increasingly fragile mental and physical state as the two agree to film various scenarios and real life escapades that delve into Dick’s life and also his impending passing.

It’s a well meaning affair, with both Johnson’s making for likeable and open centerpiece to the film but its hard to fully invest in this feature as its focus consistently wavers between events, with it often struggling too juggle its tones and events that don’t always gel into the cohesive whole that would’ve made this documentary an unforgettable experience.

Not at all seeking to explore Dick or Kirsten’s life in any great depth, Johnson flips between humorous imaginations of Dick’s death that are Chaplin like in the conception, conversations with Dick about his life and learnings and also scenarios that are proposed to mentally prepare Kirsten and Dick for what is to come but none of these elements are given proper time to breathe with a scattershot approach to Johnson’s narrative drive never allowing us the proper time and experience that some of the best documentaries manage to do.

Everything here comes from a place of true and honest intent and some of the surreal scenarios that Kirsten conjures up (hello slow-mo foot wash) make for a unique viewing experience but you can’t help but feel as though more time getting too know who these people are and exactly what we are exploring about Dick’s condition could’ve benefited greatly for a film that is always watchable but not always entirely engaging or as impactful as it could’ve been.

Final Say – 

Raising some intriguing questions about facing death and the importance of acceptance of ones circumstances, Dick Johnson is Dead is a unique documentary and sometimes an insightful one but its messy approach to its material and scattered concepts hold it back from being a deeply emotional or mandatory viewing experience.

3 Young Frankenstein screenings out of 5  

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