Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dan in Real Life

Well, maybe not exactly real life, but an adaptation of real life as seen through a sitcom window, Dan in Real Life, written and directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) is one those family reunion type films where all the relatives get together in one big house and slowly begin to out-crazy one another. It stars Steve Carell as Dan, an advice columnist keen about family values and fine parenting, though a mess in real life. Widowed for a few years, he raises his three girls, who all, in slight variances, hate him. One hates him for not allowing her to drive, one hates him for forbidding her to date (and dubs Dan a "murderer of love"), and youngest hates him for, "being a good father, but a bad dad." So all pack up to visit the folks at in idyllic Rhode Island home.
After being told to "get lost," by his nurturing mom (Dianne Wiest), Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a bookstore. Marie, a beautiful, intelligent, slightly neurotic gal takes a liking to Dan's quirky charms, but is sadly already spoken for. Dan and Marie exchange numbers anyway, just to finish their conversation. Hedges is certainly a talented writer, and Dan and Marie's first scene is written in a realistic way-- all awkward and fidgety. It's essentially a "meet cute" in a movie, but Hedges puts a little truth into it. The big twist of the film is that Marie is actually involved with Dan's younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook), and the best stretches of the movie for Carell are watching him try and disguise his jealously and resentment and put on that proverbial happy face as he watches a woman he actually might care about gallop about with his brother.

In all honesty, I wasn't looking forward to this movie, even though Carell is usually enough for me to get excited, and my low expectations weren't exactly exceeded either. While it's slightly refreshing to watch a dysfunctional family movie in which the family actually likes each other, and the writing is a notch above other family reunion movies like say, The Family Stone, Home For the Holidays, or even Hedges' own Pieces of April, the pacing here just seemed to drag on and on. Carell is quite good here, and Binoche is earthier than in 90% of the movies she does, but this wasn't a couple I found myself really rooting on for the entire length of the movie. Dan in Real Life is perfectly pleasurable, but innocuous, slightly overblown made-for-television fare. C+

P.S.-- keep on eye out for cameos by Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)-- these gals are going to be big.

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