Dan in Real Life

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Steve Carell Finds Real Life Messy

Oct 27, 2007 (Updated Apr 21, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Steve Carell and the other performances

Cons:Lack of development and focus leaves things messy.

The Bottom Line: This is a romantic drama with funny parts.


I have had a mess of mixed reactions to Steve Carell's new film, Dan in Real Life. There were parts that were funny and touching. There were parts that were predictable and shallow. And there were parts that were downright embarrassing. All in an hour and a half.

Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a widower trying to raise his three daughters as best he can. And as they are getting older, it isn't getting any easier. The oldest, Jane (Alison Pill), is begging for time behind the wheel driving. Middle daughter Cara (Brittany Robertson) is deep in the middle of her first true love. Which leaves the youngest, Lilly (Marlene Lawston), lost in the shuffle.

Dan writes a newspaper advice column, "Dan in Real Life." In it, he helps others deal with the problems in their lives. Unfortunately, he can't quite deal with his own.

Every year in the fall, the Burns family meets at the parents' summer place for a few days to help get it ready for the coming winter. It's the only time all five of the kids plus their entire families are together. This particular year, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) the first morning. They spend some amazing time together, and Dan thinks he may finally be able to move beyond his wife. Before she leaves, he gets her phone number and learns she is already seeing someone.

What Dan never sees coming is who that someone is. Arriving back at the family cabin, he discovers that Marie is his youngest brother Mitch's (Dane Cook) new girlfriend. Now he has to spend the next few days in very close proximity to her without falling for her. Just how awkward will this get?

This is one of those movies that is almost impossible to define, mainly because it doesn't know what it wants to be. The ads for the movie played up the comedy, and I laughed plenty. But it's a very serious movie at times. In fact, I would classify it as a drama with funny parts rather then a comedy.

Adding to the problem are the awkward scenes. Granted, I'm not a fan of comedy by making a fool out of someone. Yet that is exactly what happens here. Several of the scenes are almost embarrassing to watch. This includes some of the frank talks his family tries to have with him. Everyone is concerned, especially when he starts behaving strangely. Yet those conversations, especially when held in front of his parents, aren't funny.

Then there's the general lack of development. Granted, this movie has a large cast, and I didn't expect all of them to be fully developed. There just isn't time. Yet the only characters given any chance to develop are Dan and Marie. Even they don't come fully to life because everyone else seems flat. If a few of the other characters had more to them, it might have brought our leads to life.

Plus, there is a major plot point that we just take on faith. Dan has to sleep in the laundry room. Granted, the house is large. But there seems to be room for a girls and a guys room upstairs. Why can't he just join the guys?

Okay, this is sounding rather negative. So what did I like about the film? Let's start with performances. The lack of character development I mentioned earlier has nothing do to with the cast. Steve Carell is wonderful as Dan. We always know exactly what he is feeling. And while his family doesn't get his behavior, one look explains it all to us. Dane Cook is perfect as Mitch. He's a bit obnoxious, but we do care for him, too. And Juliette Binoche brings a warmth to Marie that makes it easy to see why anyone would fall in love with her at first sight.

And I truly did like the family dynamic. Okay, so a family getting together every year and having a talent show and playing games may be over the top, but I liked that view of family life. The idea that these people would still be so close even as they grow older is truly heart warming. And while the meddling into Dan's life did get on my nerves, I must say the fact that the family cared did mean something.

Because the movie is a mixed bag, it is hard to recommend. If you are a die hard Steve Carell fan, you'll probably want to go see it now. Otherwise, you can wait until Dan in Real Life hits DVD.


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