Dan In Real Life

Dan In Real Life


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

What would a romantic comedy be if not predictable? Boy meets girl, a series of obstacles keeps them apart, before these are overcome and the couple finally gets it together. It is a formula that has warmed hearts for decades, and for this genre, that, it seems, is enough. Rom-com is essentially a sweet confection, and any side-serving of bitterness is there merely as a bonus, to set off the syrupy flavour of the whole and make it slightly easier to swallow.

Fans of What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), adapted by Peter Hedges from his own novel, or of his directorial debut Pieces Of April (2003), may be expecting something of those films' edginess – but in fact Dan In Real Life clings steadfastly to rom-com form. Love love love is in the air, as well as family values and other, similarly wholesome themes, and while death and despair also have a role to play, they have already left the stage long before the film's events begin to be enacted.

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Since his beloved wife passed away four years ago, Dan Burns (Steve Carell) has buried himself in writing advice columns and bringing up his three daughters. Nice guy though he may be, he is also uptight, overprotective, and has little time for love – but then, while spending the long weekend at the Rhode Island home of his parents (Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney) for the annual clan gathering, he meets Marie (Juliet Binoche) in a bookshop, and the sparks immediately fly between them.

And then, the obstacle. Marie, it turns out, is the new girlfriend that Dan's womanising brother Mitch (Dane Cook) has been longing to introduce to the family, and while Dan would love to get the girl, he would hate to hurt his brother. As Dan and Marie struggle to keep their mutual attraction under control or at least under wraps, mum and dad obliviously set Dan up on a date with old schoolmate Ruthie 'Pigface' Draper (a show-stealing Emily Blunt), in the hope that this forward, needy woman will drag Dan out of his lonely rut.

Dan in Real Life may have a number of narrative bowling balls lined up, but you will know right from the start where they are all going to end up rolling. Will Dan ever trust his eldest, recently licensed daughter Jane (Alison Pill) to drive his car? Will he ever appreciate, let alone indulge, the amorous feelings of his middle daughter Cara (Brittany Robertson) towards a young beau? Will Dan's youngest daughter Lilly (Marlene Lawston) be able to maintain, or even outdo, her current run of unbearable cuteness? Will Dan's newspaper column get syndicated? Will he ever be able to declare his true feelings for Marie? And if he does, how will Mitch console himself? Let's just say that the answers you have already guessed for all these questions are very likely to prove true.

There is no mistaking Hedges' film for anything other than a saccharine corn-fest, but what keeps it from palling entirely is the strength of the ensemble performances, and the smartly understated writing. Though all the to-ing and fro-ing from one room to the next aligns the film's plot closely with farce, the comedy remains resolutely gentle rather than broad (this, despite humour being derived from a shower scene, some funny dance moves and even a football-in-the-face) – and with The 40 Year Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine already under his belt, Steve Carell has now fully earned his crown as the king of middle-aged laughs.

All in all, it is a well-executed wade through the treacliest aspects of real life - too amiable (and, thankfully, not too long) to rouse strong objections from even the most jaded and cynical of viewers.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2007
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Widower Dan meets the girl of his dreams - but she's dating his brother.
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Director: Peter Hedges

Writer: Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges

Starring: Steve Carell, Juliet Binoche, Dane Cook, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Emily Blunt, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Norbert Leo Butz, Amy Ryan, Jessica Hecht, Frank Wood

Year: 2007

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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Pieces Of April