Thursday, 10 January 2008

Dan In Real Life - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Peter Hedges
Screenwriters: Peter Hedges, Pierce Gardner
Running time: 98 minutes
Certificate: PG
Release date: 11 January

Oh Steve Carell, how you play with our hearts. On The Daily Show, his deadpan delivery made us giggle with delight. With small roles in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, Carell stole scenes from comedic predecessors Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell. With The 40 Year Old Virgin, he finally became a bona-fide superstar, but didn’t let it get to his head and helped Little Miss Sunshine make it to the big show. But oh, how it all went so terribly wrong when he cashed in for the hideously unfunny Evan Almighty, and how he danced in front of my face like a fool, taunting us with your shiny new CGI.

After one massive hit and one colossal flop, Carell’s latest film, Dan in Real Life feels like Carell finally being normal, somewhere reasonably between Virgin’s Andy Stitzer and Sunshine’s Frank Hoover, characters who were parodies of middle aged men with issues. Titular character Dan Burns is a widowed father of three girls who also enjoys mild success as an inspirational advice columnist living in New Jersey. During a family reunion in a rustic Rhode Island home, Dan goes out for a newspaper and meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), and these two melancholy souls make a connection that surely can’t be ignored. Coincidentally, it just so happens that Marie is dating Dan’s brother Mitch (Dane Cook), an All-American womanizer type who is clearly taking his first stab at serious dating.

With such a set-up, a comedy of hidden desires seems inevitable, but Dan in Real Life doesn’t go for the easy laughs. Instead, the situation puts Dan in a challenging situation of choosing between his heart and his family. It is easy to sympathize with the pain in Steve Carrel’s eyes as he witnesses the horror of screen legend Juliette Binoche canoodling with Good Luck Chuck himself, Dane Cook. From this, Dan slumps into some dour moods for a bit of this film, threatening to go into Paul Giamatti territory. But Dan in Real Life, as the title suggests, keeps things on the level. The humour comes from the everyday struggle of parenthood and the subtle absurdities of heartbreak, contributing to the gentle feel of the film, whose most dramatic moments take place at a bowling alley.

Dan in Real Life isn’t quite the light fare that will appeal to all rom-com fans across the board, but the examination of the joys and pains of love feel sincere and unpretentious. It suffers from more than a few flaws, the most glaring one being the absurd amount of family members, who aren’t much more than background noise. Aside from that, the film’s ending feels like it was tacked on by a studio executive, as it plays out over the ending credits. But just like Dan, despite its flaws, it’s certainly worth a date. Just don’t let Steve Carrel dance. Ever.

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