Dan in Real Life is a mixed bag of misery, tenderness, and moderate wit; all wrapped around a wonderful performance by Steve Carell. The film suffers from the usual issues: contrivances are piled as high as one character’s famous pancakes, there are too many characters, and the humor is truly hit-and-miss. Yet Carell, who is quickly building an impressive big screen resume, shines and brings the rest of the film up a few notches in the process.
Dan Burns (Carell) is a successful columnist who writes about everyday life. From families to relationships he’s the go-to guy for his readers. Dan is a single man (his wife is deceased) and raising three daughters on his own, hence his wide array of expertise. As the film opens the clan is preparing for their annual trip to Rhode Island to see the extended family. All of his daughters are at crossroads in their lives: The oldest, Jane (Pill), is thinking about college, Cara (Robertson) is “in love” with a classmate, and young Lilly (Lawston) is just pulling out of her father worshiping phase.
Dan’s family is a real trip. His parents (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) feel he desperately needs to find a new woman, his brother, Mitch (Cook), is his wilder counterpart who also feels he is in love, and the rest of the bunch takes jabs at him whenever possible. Shortly after arriving, Dan meets Marie (Binoche) at a bookstore. There is an immediate attraction, but it soon becomes known that Marie has a new relationship going and is unavailable. Conveniently, the man in Marie’s life is Mitch. The bulk of the screenplay, by Pierce Gardner and Peter Hedges, milks the awkwardness of the situation as Marie becomes more and more ingrained with the family.
What keeps the film from derailing into mock sappiness is the honest, sweet core. Carell is onscreen for nearly every frame and his presence is genuine. Rather than crumbling as things get worse and worse, Carell plays Dan as a figure who never changes even though everyone else thinks he needs to. The laughs are fairly constant, although never side-splitting. It’s the smaller moments that are to be savored in a movie like this. It’s enough to supersede some stunningly calculated contrivances and a few false tugs on the heartstrings.
Dan in Real Life is far from perfect, but it is a passable diversion to open the fall season. The supporting cast is dependable and you will leave with a big old smile on your face. It’s the type of cinema that everyone is comfortable with and I’m not even sure why it’s rated PG-13 (the “innuendo” that the MPAA cites is mild at best). Carell is once again in top form, and fans of his signature dry wit will walk away pleased.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 95 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some innuendo.
Theatrical Release: October 26, 2007
Directed by: Peter Hedges
Written by: Pierce Garder & Peter Hedges.
Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston