Dan in Real Life

Synopsis: 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 that’s “laugh-out-loud funny” – Steve Oldfield, Fox.
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Dan in Real Life 8.0

I had heard some really mediocre things about ‘Dan in Real Life’. And, based on its title and artwork, I was really not planning on seeing it; they might as well have called in ‘Bland in Real Life’. mad0071 Free Emoticons   Anger

However, I picked it up for free in a bulk DVD deal and decided to give it a try. Sometimes, when a title’s just sitting there in my hands, I figure that I might as well; all it costs me is time, and I won’t ever have to wonder what I missed out on. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

There are times when taking a gamble like this really doesn’t work out (case-in-point: in the execrable ‘300’, ‘The Island’ and ‘Transformers’ sick0002 Free Sick Emoticons). And then there are pleasant surprises such as ‘Dan in Real Life’. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

There’s not much that I can say about a film such as this one because it’s mostly eventless; it’s all about a widowed father who is coping with raising three daughters and ends up falling in love while on a weekend gathering with the whole extended family. Most of the comedy and drama revolve around the fact that he finds out that he can’t have the woman he longs for, but also can’t escape her presence.

The cast and dialogue are key in these types of dramedies, and, luckily, they’re both just right. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

The film is filled with naturalistic performance that feel emotionally real; I could easily imagine these people, warts and all, and their interactions were entirely credible. I was impressed to see that Steve Carell manages to do what Robin Williams was able to do at his best: to bridge the gap between comedy, drama and sentimentality (something Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler seem incapable of indifferent0004 Free Emoticons   Indifferent).

Then there’s the ageless, breathtakingly pure Juliette Binoche. She is a real delight. love0010 Free Emoticons   Love I’m always a little reticent about seeing her films. I don’t know why, because she’s never disappointed, but something about her or her films makes me hesitate. However, she’s so effortlessly congenial in ‘Dan in Real Life’ that it’s easy to understand why Carell’s character (and just about everyone else!) falls for her; she’s a woman you genuinely want to meet.

The writers managed to convey the erratic nature of what a family can be for anyone at its centre, trying to contend with so many personalities, so many needs and desires. But they also translated the enveloping security and warmth of a healthy one. It’s true that they are only capturing one weekend, and that people can more easily accept or adapt to limited and controlled chaos, but that’s also taken into account, I think. I could actually see myself there, amongst them, even though I would probably eschew their activities and remain on the sidelines (much as I did by watching the DVD, really winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking).

My only beef with the whole film, actually, is a bowling alley scene that takes place later in the film. While plausible, I found it was completely contrived only to add dramatic tension to the film. During this sequence, what was happening on screen did not feel like real life to me – it was more like ‘Dan in Hollywood Clichés’. indifferent0004 Free Emoticons   Indifferent

There was also this miniscule scene when Dan’s youngest daughter forgives his recent distraction and carelessness and tells him to chase after the woman he loves: “Go. Now.”, she says. That was far too saccharine and manufactured; it made me want to retch (especially since you could see it coming. Ick confused).

And yet I’m willing to overlook these two unfortunate mistakes because the rest felt so realistic, so human, so rich in humour and emotion. ‘Dan in Real Life’ is a truly appropriate title, even though it is likely not very compelling to people who prefer to watch movies to escape their own all-too-real lives. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

Post scriptum: as a side note, I was looking at director Peter Hedges’ filmography, and his new feature, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, will be released this year. I’m not keen on the cast, but the premise is such that it could be quite something – if done right. I’m looking forward to hearing all about it when reviews start to come in. Either way, it’s likely that you’ll read about it here at some point. winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking

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