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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.13%
Worth A Look84.38%
Average: 3.13%
Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 6.25%

3 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Dan in Real Life
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by Erik Childress

"A Sitcom Reality Saved By Carell & Hedges"
4 stars

Peter Hedges is not a name that leaps to mind to the moviegoing public, so its in their right mind for the folks at Disney to sell Dan In Real Life as another Steve Carell vehicle. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with their ad campaign either which doesn’t try to oversell it as a physically wacky or laugh-a-minute comedy, but more of the light family drama that it actually is. It’s a specialized field for Hedges who made his directorial debut on the wonderful Sundance player, Pieces of April, but also lent his pen to the adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy as well as his own novel, the exquisite What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? All of them share the common strand of their protagonist forced to confront the holes in their own lives while embracing the unbreakable bonds of family despite their conscious or subconscious attempts to sever them. Dan In Real Life doesn’t quite hold up to those previous efforts, but still provides Carell a reasonable outlet to sashay into more dramatic territory.

Dan Burns’ real life involves a job as a parental advice columnist, one he seems suited for being a widower of four years with three daughters including two of the teenage variety. Eldest daughter Jane (Alison Pill) desperately wants dad to give her driving lessons. Middle child Cara (Brittany Robertson) is suffering a first love crisis with a boy she can’t seem to live apart from that Dan dismisses. Only his youngest Lily (Marlene Lawston) appears to have dad’s ear as somewhere they both understand he’s doing the best he can in absence of their mom. This week the Burns’ are gathering at the family cabin for the annual reunion with mom and dad (Dianne Wiest & John Mahoney), the married siblings, their kids and the perpetual bachelor brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

It’s precisely the kind of reunion that cries out for a little alone time (and you'd love to see the Burns vs. The Family Stone on Family Feud - with actual weaponry) and when Dan is sent out to get the papers…get the papers…, he has a chance meeting with Marie (Juliette Binoche) at the bookstore. Their meet-cute turns into coffee and despite the knowledge that she’s seeing someone, she gives Dan her number and makes a point to have him call her. Back at the cabin everyone is enthusiastic at the prospect of a glowing Dan meeting someone. Dan’s glow comes to a quick halt though when he realizes that the someone Marie has been seeing is his brother, Mitch. Despite a few fleeting efforts to fess up, Dan and Marie spend the rest of the week hiding their feelings although bit by bit realizing they are the most suited for one another.

Painted into this sitcom corner, Dan In Real Life comes close many times to taking our attention away from how hard its trying to develop its characters from checkers into chess pieces. Binoche’s Marie suffers the most from this, beginning with the hindsight impression that she’s someone willing to date Dane Cook. After their first “date”, Marie is basically called upon to be at times a vision of age-appropriate beauty (in both a stretchy workout outfit and the shower) and the listening ear that Dan’s daughters have been lacking. There’s a very funny scene that derives from family interference into Dan’s personal life. Since they’ve all conveniently forgotten about Dan’s “hottie” encounter, they arrange a date with a girl known as “pigface.” (No, not the one from Four Weddings and a Funeral.) Since it would be cruel to actually introduce a snouty suitor for Dan (especially with all the pre-jokes cracked about her), naturally she has to be a legitimate “hottie.” Played by Emily Blunt, our suspicions once aroused become doubly aroused. We get a very funny scene out of it during a double date where Dan plays up his interest in the girl almost twice his junior, but Blunt’s unfortunately minimal screen time means she’s guaranteed to pop up at precisely the moment the script needs an easy out to fix things.

Sitcomesque indeed, but the screenplay by Hedges and PierceLost SoulsGardner sneaks its lead character’s idiosyncricies towards conclusions and parallels that we may have been distracted from. The hypocritical parenting being the most obvious of Dan’s flaws. There’s no question he loves his kids, but either he isn’t ready to accept them as anything other than his babies or he so desperately wants to be the adult. The dismissal of his youngest spouting out a line he wishes he came up with will fold back on him when he discovers he’s no better at personal dialogue than his brother, Mitch, or his daughter’s teenage boyfriend. One rash moment to kibosh love outside a coffee shop later becomes another rash decision to begin it from the outside looking in. Film’s most touching moment comes during a talent show when brothers come together to find the lyrics for the same woman and watching Carell take it solo for a perfectly played final verse that is equally powerful for how much he underplays it. It’s a solid dramatic moment for Carell.

Much of Dan In Real Life plays that way, with Carell taking the reins and keeping the movie afloat on his shoulders just as it flirts with the occasional false beat like a dinner scene hijacking or him falling off a roof. I’m sure there are families who can’t just get together for a weekend but have to make an activities-laden spectacle of themselves, but it’s always a little too perfect for the movies and becomes cloying (and almost satirical) by the skit-sharing. Thankfully, Hedges keeps his focus and doesn’t allow the film to just become a series of sketches and syrupy confessionals. It’s as light as the dramatic feather will float, but there’s enough smiles and a few more laughs to check out of real life for ninety minutes.

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originally posted: 10/26/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

9/22/11 Dwight Schrute Somewhat aimless, but well intentioned and strongly acted by Carell, Binoche and Cook 3 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. so true to life. i really liked it. :] 4 stars
11/03/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 4 stars
6/15/08 Melissa I loved this movie. I laughed. I cried. Great movie. 5 stars
5/31/08 Sam Not perfect, but charming and has its moments 4 stars
5/28/08 orpy Loved it, love him! 4 stars
3/17/08 Dan Though I'm typically not a fan of the genre, I enjoyed this understated rom-com. 4 stars
3/13/08 TheGuvAnator This movie is slow, boaring, dull, useless,irritating, lame waste of time! 1 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Has about as much genuine feeling as a cheap greeting card 1 stars
12/13/07 William Goss A steadily charming, if somewhat unoriginal, dramedy. Even Dane Cook's not bad. 4 stars
11/19/07 The Russian Lunch Lady Good, but I guesed the entire plot and ending. Sort of predictable. 4 stars
11/09/07 mb slow and boring 2 stars
11/01/07 George How can she be "mistaken" that she liked it? I liked it too. 4 stars
10/30/07 Stacy Ads were quite misleading... but I still liked it a lot. It was a pleasant surprise. 4 stars
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  26-Oct-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Mar-2008



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