Just as Steve Carell appeared in danger of squandering the box office legitimacy and indie cred he’d gained by starring in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine back-to-back (see the overblown, budget-busting Evan Almighty ), he redeems himself with Dan in Real Life. Although distributed by Disney, the romantic comedy was produced by Touchstone and, interestingly, Universal-based Focus, and the niche labels’ influence is felt in the laffer’s resistance to playing too broadly. Instead, this picture about romance found unexpectedly in middle age juxtaposes poignant observations about love and family with genuinely humorous moments.
The widowed father of three girls—17-year-old Jane (Alison Pill), adolescent Cara (Brittany Robertson) and fourth-grader Lily (Marlene Lawston)—Dan (Carell) packs up his brood and heads to his family’s beachside home in Rhode Island for the annual Burns reunion. The house is bustling with the activity of Nana and Poppy (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney), three siblings, in-laws and nieces and nephews of various ages—a refreshingly non-dysfunctional family—so Dan escapes to a nearby bookstore/tackle shop for a moment of respite.
There he meets the alluring Marie (Juliette Binoche) and thinks, for the first time since his wife’s death four years ago, that he may have finally met someone. Upon his return, however, he discovers that the very same woman is his brother Mitch’s (Dane Cook) new girlfriend. Suddenly the dedicated dad who dutifully ignores thong underwear in the wash and draws honey smiley faces on crustless sandwiches is ignoring the very advice he writes in his newspaper advice column.
In his follow-up to 2003’s Sundance hit Pieces of April, director/co-writer Peter Hedges uses long, fluid takes to capture the intimacy and chaos of a family that seems from a different era, dividing into teams of boys versus girls for competitive crossword puzzling, gathering for morning workouts and putting on an annual talent show. The themes of love, though—ranging from youthful infatuation that’s as hysterical as it is authentic to maternal discipline that still reminds an adult son not to shout at the dinner table—are timeless. Here it’s the young who best understand love in its various forms, making up their own maxims on the topic that the adults can only doubt and then steal.
Accompanied by the coffeehouse acoustics of Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche, Dan in Real Life is at once funny, touching and, inevitably, mortifying.
Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney
Director: Peter Hedges
Screenwriters: Pierce Gardner and Peter Hedges
Producers: Jon Shestack and Brad Epstein
Genre: Romantic comedy
Rating: PG-13 for some innuendo
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: October 26, 2007