|Dan in Real Life|
Written by Brian Wylie
March 24, 2008
Steve Carell , who plays an unintentionally funny boss on NBC’s The Office and a stiff but lovable virgin in The 40-Year Old Virgin, and Dane Cook, who stars as a “good luck charm” lover on Good Luck Chuck, together make Dan In Real Life a romantic comedy that is appropriate for all ages. However, the combination of Carell and Cook is not exactly what I expected. Because these two actors have taken over-the-top humorous roles in the past, I assumed that their personalities would have been more prevalent than captured in Dan In Real Life, which would have resulted in a more in your face comedy. Despite my initial letdown, after watching the entire movie I found Dan In Real Life to be highly charming and also very funny in a true to life subtle manner, which enticed me to watch it over and over again.
Dan Burns is the leading character played by Steve Carell. Dan is a widowed newspaper advice columnist with three daughters, whom he has a difficult time allowing to grow up. Dan is your every day good father who loves his girls with his whole being, but has to be both mother and father, so he comes off as overprotective. Dan’s advice column is entitled “Dan In Real Life,” hence the title of the movie. In his column, Dan provides loyal readers with advice on family and relationships. Throughout the movie we see how ironic it is that Dan is giving advice about family issues and relationships, since his personal life seems to be plagued with the exact issues he is counseling his readers about.
Dan lovingly prepares a cooler full of peanut butter sandwiches, packs the car, and heads to his parents’ house in Rhode Island with his daughters for their annual family gathering. His parents (Dianne Weist and John Mahoney) lovingly welcome the family in, but quickly send Dan off to “get lost” for a while.
As Dan is taking a much needed break from parenting at a local bookstore he stumbles across a truly intelligent, interesting and engaging woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche). Dan and Marie find themselves caught up in meaningful conversation for hours, until Marie realizes she has to leave and hurries off without promising Dan another meeting. This connection is hugely important in Dan’s life since he has not become emotionally connected with anyone since the death of his wife which happened years ago. And in this one conversation he felt something he had not felt in a long time.
Upon returning to his parents’ home, Dan realizes Marie is in fact dating his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook). This was a shock to both Dan and Marie. However, the shock seems to be both pleasing and yet disconcerting at the same time. Dan is elated that he has the opportunity to spend more time getting to know Marie. But he is also upset that she is “off limits” by his younger, less deserving, brother Mitch. This love triangle sets up the theme for the rest of the movie as we see the mood flip flop from admiration to jealousy to retaliation. But it’s majorly in part because of this constant changing of feelings and moods that makes Dan In Real Life so funny and so true to life, which allows all viewers to fully understand and appreciate what each character is going through.
As the family gathering continues family bonding activities such as crossword competitions, group exercise, dinners, talent shows and Marie’s special pancakes take place. And with the passing of these activities, the awkwardness and suppressed tension and jealousy become more prominent in everyone. But despite the intensifying of these feelings, the movie still delivers laugh after laugh with the subtle mannerisms of Carell and over the top comments from Cook. It is a delicate balance to maintain, but is well carried out.
Despite the fact that this feel good comedy was an overall success, I would have liked to have seen the characters’ personalities more defined. It was obvious who was who, but for a light drama meets romantic comedy that is not enough. The actors who took part in this film are all incredible actors, Steve Carell, Dane Cook, Juliette Binoche, Dianne Weist (2-time Oscar winner) and John Mahoney (“Frasier’s” dad). And I feel that each one, including Carell and Cook, could handle the semi-dramatic material, but their characters appeared to be not fully developed. Although Carell’s character, Dan, was for the most part fully developed to the point of emotional connection, the others were lacking.
But many of the typical movie-goers would not have even thought twice about the development of the characters, and thoroughly enjoyed the film for its charming and true to life humor. So overall Dan In Real Life presents a thoughtful, yet humorous, plot carried out by highly-talented actors, which results in a lovable film you can watch again and again.
Another way they achieved such a real world element to their film is the house in which most of the film was set. The producers spent lots of time searching for the perfect “homey” and familiar place that their characters and audience could immediately associate with.
Though many audience members may not be able to associate with a luxurious cottage on a gorgeous lake in Rhode Island, the core elements of the house were key to making the house a home.