Directed by: Peter Hedges
Premise: A widower (Steve Carell) attends a family reunion and falls for his brother’s new girlfriend (Juliette Binoche). At the same time, he struggles in his relationship to his three daughters (Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston).
What Works: Dan in Real Life is an excellent combination of comedic and dramatic components. Carell’s performance is terrific and he gets to show off his considerable talents, making the audience laugh and cry with his romantic and familial dilemmas. His interaction with his daughters is one of the best components of the film, especially his relationship to Cara, the adolescent middle-child played by Brittany Robertson. The two battle wits and nerves as Dan attempts to control Cara and keep her frozen in preteen innocence while Cara violates those controls as hormones kick in and she tries reach her first love (Felipe Dieppa). This relationship is able to alternate between drama and high comedy and ends up complementing the romantic relationship between Dan and Marie (Binoche). The romance between the adult characters is very good, and the tension between them is well scripted and staged, with the actors bringing the characters to life in ways that allow for laughs and for tears. There is also a less visible but equally notable performance in the film by Dane Cook as Dan’s brother and Marie’s boyfriend. Cook does not get as much screen time, but he is able to make the role into something and the script allows him more range in the role than this kind of story usually allows. That is indicative of what is extraordinary about Dan in Real Life; the film provides the audience with storylines and scenarios seen in other romantic comedies such as Wedding Crashers, but it allows the characters to break out of the molds usually seen in these films and delivers something fresh and authentic, if not entirely original.
What Doesn’t: The one error of the film is in its Hollywood ending. Up until its final moments, Dan in Real Life does a wonderful job with the tone of the story, rotating physical comedy, ironic humor, and comedy of errors while maintaining a family drama that puts something at stake. The film’s conclusion is tarnished by a wrap up that is too tidy and incongruent with the rest the picture’s more complex portrayal of Dan’s family life and his romantic dilemma.
Bottom Line: Dan in Real Life is an excellent film. It is one of Carell’s best projects and it gives him a chance to really display his range in talent from physical comedy to outright drama. The rest of the cast also comes off well and the film ends up as one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory.
Episode: #168 (December 2, 2007)