Directed by Peter Hedges
“Something’s happening to Dan. It’s confusing. It’s awkward. It’s family.
Steve Carell (‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin,’ TV’s ‘The Office’), Hollywood’s leading funnyman, stars in the hilarious comedy that’s bursting with charm – a movie you’ll watch again and again. Advice columnist Dan Burns (Carell) is an expert on relationships, but somehow struggles to succeed as a brother, a son and a single parent to three precocious daughters. Things get even more complicated when Dan finds out that the woman he falls in love with is actually his brother’s new girlfriend. Carell is joined by a brilliant all-star supporting cast, including Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest, for a heartfelt, fun-filled comedy.”
Dan In Real Life is rated PG-13 for some innuendo.
Steve Carell’s Dan is renowned in his local community for the advice he does out in his newspaper column, but after the death of his wife, he’s been forced to deal with three growing daughters, each of them posing their own problems whether it’s the 15-year-old wanting to drive or his even younger daughter having fallen in love with her first boyfriend. On an annual trip to the Rhode Island beach house to spend a week with Dan’s family, Dan meets a gorgeous woman named Marie (Binoche) at a bookstore. There’s an immediate connection and an attraction, and Marie seems like a godsend to Dan until he finds out that she’s his younger brother’s girlfriend, which leads to many awkward moments as they try to keep their earlier meeting and flirtation a secret from the rest of the family, especially Mitch, who already has a competitive relationship with his older brother.
There are elements of “Dan” that can be compared favorably to broader comedies like “Meet the Parents” and “Wedding Crashers” in terms of the easy to relate to humor to be found invariably in all quirky family gatherings. It never falls into the traps or clichés of normal high concept romantic comedies, because the humor never seems forced, instead being based on realistic situations and emotions, mostly in the form of Dan’s isolation from the rest of his family, as he’s forced to sleep in the laundry room, being the only single adult in the family. Much of Dan’s arc revolves around him coming to terms with his teen daughters growing up and accepting that they’re responsible young women who can make smart decisions. Dan learns to lighten up as he realizes how close they’re getting to Marie, often entrusting her with things they can never confide in their father.
If you liked Carell in “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” you’re just as sure to enjoy his multi-layered performance here, which offers subtler humor with a lot of credible heartfelt emotion. The mildly funny quips in the commercial don’t really give a clear idea of the film’s strengths, which usually comes in the form of the surprisingly solid chemistry between Carell and Binoche. On paper, one wouldn’t think that the two very different actors would be able to connect, but Binoche delivers in this lighter role than we’ve normally seen her play. Likewise, Dane Cook is a credible foil to Carell in their sparring over Marie.
Sometimes, it gets a bit too cute, but mostly, the situations and their inherent humor seems natural, and that’s a testament to Hedges’ ability at writing credible dialogue and assembling a talented cast of character and stage actors to deliver it. The entire ensemble meshes together well as Carell and Cook’s family, adding a lot to the mix, especially the young actresses playing his daughters. The final ingredient in Hedges’ recipe is the pleasant acoustic-driven soundtrack by Sondre Lerche, an unknown Norwegian singer/songwriter who hits all the right beats with his simple melodic score.
“Dan in Real Life” is a thoroughly charming and enjoyable film that mixes fun with a poignant look at life, love and family in all their ups and downs. Steve Carell gives another terrific performance that shows his range as an actor, and it proves that Hedges’ first film “Pieces of April” wasn’t a fluke. More importantly, it’s nice to finally see a movie that can put romance and humor together without making it seem contrived and forced.