Directed by: Peter Hedges
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook
Rated: PG-13 for some innuendo.
Parental Notes: Beyond teens getting away with speaking to their parents in a way some adults might not appreciate and a bit of innuendo, this film doesn’t have anything objectionable for teens/tweens.
“Dan in Real Life” is a fairly standard male-character-centric romantic comedy, with the standard foibles and charms of its genre well in place. You’ve got the hapless hero, who is sweet and charming but flawed enough that he’s single and gets into plenty of humorous scrapes that a more logical person would avoid. There’s the impossibly wonderful love interest, whose only flaws are plot devices. There’s the sprawlingly large family with humorous bad habits. Ultimately, there isn’t much here that we haven’t seen before. But “Dan in Real Life” is well-executed and has the advantage of the charming Juliette Binoche and Steve Carell as its leads.
Dan (Carell, “Evan Almighty”), a widower, is a parenting and family advice columnist who is up for syndication. His column is beloved by many, many readers, but he has a little trouble taking his own advice. His eldest daughter, Jane (Alison Pill, “Dear Wendy”), desperately wants to learn to drive, but Dan is afraid she might get hurt and won’t allow it. Fifteen-year-old Cara (Brittany Robertson, “Frank”) is utterly passionate and determined to be a lot closer to her boyfriend than Dan would like, and his disapproval only strengthens her resolve. Fourth-grader Lilly (Marlene Lawston, “Flightplan”) is the one he gets along with the best, but by the end of the movie she’s mad at him too.
Dan and the girls head up to his parent’s sprawlng home for the family Thanksgiving. By the time they arrive, the girls are mad enough at him that his mother (Dianne Weist, “Dedication”) sends him out in the morning for newspapers, telling him to get lost for a while. While out, he meets Marie (Binoche, “Breaking and Entering”) and they have one of those conversations that is the start of something big. He gets her number, even though she warns she’s in a new relationship with someone. When Dan comes home and starts telling his family all about her, he is cut off by the discovery that she is already there — she’s dating his brother Mitch (Dane Cook, “Good Luck Chuck”). Hilarity ensues as Dan and Marie agree to hide their mutual attraction and try to throw themselves into the reunion activities. Pretty soon Dan is alienating his family and behaving like a buffoon.
There’s no doubt where things will end up, of course, only how many twists and turns the plot will take to get there. This being a comedy, everything gets tied up with a neat bow at the end, which will feel either forced or comforting, depending on your mood. Carell and Binoche both have wonderfully light touches, which makes the somewhat heavy-handed script far more enjoyable than one might expect. Carell appears happy to inhabit his role gently, rather than thrashing about like Ben Stiller or another humiliation comic might. Binoche seems to float gently through her role, being French and beautiful and mysterious.
Ultimately, “Dan in Real Life” is a romantic comedy, with all that entails, so if you are on the hunt for that sort of thing, it is right up your alley. If you aren’t, then it’s not, so steer clear.