Archive for the ‘Comedy Films’ Category

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DRILLBIT TAYLOR (2008)

June 14, 2008

Drillbit Taylor Review

Matt:

Length: 109 min

Taglines:
You get what you pay for.
Budget Bodyguard.
The best bodyguard pocket money can buy.

Précis: Formulaic and disagreeable comedy about a budget bodyguard’s lazy efforts to protect some kids from a psycho-bully.

Review by Matt:

I was a bit wary, but I still thought Drillbit Taylor – a comedy film from Judd Apatow’s team (Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) – had a premise with some potential. A couple of bullied kids are sick of spending their days hanging by their underpants, so they hire themselves a bodyguard. Pocket money can’t get you much so they end up with raggedy drifter, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson). It’s a movie that might have been charming and funny. It’s not. It’s messy, lackluster, and has a bit of a sour attitude. The film also has a funny tagline: “You get what you pay for”. You don’t. If only it were true and paying the theatre price could actually guarantee a decent comedy.

Instead, Drillbit Taylor gives us hackneyed nonsense that is dissatisfying on every level. As soon as we see a few simple plot pieces drifting toward each other, we know what is going to happen. Bullied boys Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) are without father figures (or in Wade’s case, he has an unbearable ‘gotta-be-a-winner’ step-dad who philosophises that bullies toughen up weedy kids). Cash-strapped Drillbit enters the scene and initially loiters just to organize a jackpot homeless-hit on Wade’s house. But with a bit of “I hope you’re our friend forever” shenanigans, and the beginnings of a romance with the kids’ female teacher (Leslie Mann, in a perplexing nymphomaniac role), Drillbit starts to feel responsible for his little soldiers.

Sounds familiar. School of Rock also recently used little kids to reform an incorrigible slacker in the form of Jack Black, only that movie wasn’t as caustic and Jack Black was more likeable. There’s not much to like about Drillbit the wandering scam-artist, and it’s a cheat if we’re expected to like him just because he’s embodied by charismatic Owen Wilson. The film suffers from systemic unevenness. By the end, we’re not only expected to like Drillbit, but the bullying nastiness has rocketed to an over-the-top degree, and violence is suddenly the problem-solver that saves the day and gets you the girl. There ends up being a gulf between our attitude to the film and its self-perception, because its wavering plot knocks us all askew.

You could forgive the lack of originality and frayed plot if the humour was really sharp. There’s a bit of spark there with a few laughs and some amusing dialogue – mainly from the kids – but it can’t save the sinking wreck. And there are a decent amount of those mis-hit jokes where in the silence afterwards all you can hear is a cricket chirruping outside. The two main kids are good. They have a believable kid-like presence and a decent sense of comedy. They even look a bit like they’re modeled on Laurel and Hardy. I don’t know who the third, irritating, hanger-on kid (Emmit – David Dorfman) is supposed to be modeled on though. Although I loathe bullies, I found myself guiltily thinking he would have made good crab bait.

By the time the end arrives, you’re pleased to see it, and at least there is a bouncy Weezer song over the credits to help restore your mood as you exit (and for all of you wondering, the song is Photograph off Weezer’s excellent Green Album). It leaves you wondering about poor old Owen Wilson, who is a good comedic actor, but found himself again stuck in an ordinary film with mostly unworkable material. He might be a bit like the female teacher in this movie who complains that she has some kind of unconscious attraction to losers. Drillbit Taylor is also a good reminder that current comedy golden boys Seth Rogen (who co-scripted) and Judd Apatow (who produced) maybe aren’t as special as people boast. They need to work harder than this, and Hollywood definitely has a long way to go before it can claim there is a ‘comedy renaissance’ going on.

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MOLIERE (2008)

June 13, 2008

Moliere Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 120 min

Précis: Droll farce about an imagined episode in the life of the father of French comedy, when he apparently gained the inspiration to write his own droll farces.

Review by Matt:

Evidently, during the early life of the famous 17th century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as “Moliere”, there is some missing time about which historians speculate. Where did the young Moliere go and what did he get up to? French director Laurent Tirard wonders as well, and in his witty comedy film Moliere, he imagines a farcical episode to fill in the gap. Kind of like a French Shakespeare in Love, it also tries to explain where Moliere may have gained inspiration for some of his famous plays.

The fantasy history begins after the skint Moliere (played by Romain Duris) is thrown into prison for his unpaid debts. This is a true event, but historians wonder who actually paid the price for Moliere’s release. In this account, a wealthy benefactor steps up with the cash. It’s Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy nincompoop with pretensions of joining French’s upper-class milieu. He offers to take care the debt if Moliere will stay at Jourdain’s château and teach him the great art of acting. Why does Jourdain need these lessons? So he can pursue the requisite French affair of course – he wants to perform a play he wrote to win the heart of Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), an icy darling of the French court. So Moliere dons a fake priest’s collar, and a fake name, and treads into a situation which quickly starts to resemble a pastiche of his own farcical works. As well as needing to satisfy his unusual contract, Moliere needs to hide his true purpose from Jourdain’s neglected wife, Elmire (Laura Morante). But her artistic sensibilities soon start to attract him to her as well.

Farce time! Moliere serves up a blend of droll comedy and slapstick, skipping through silly schemes, affairs, and mistaken identities with a light tone. It also examines Moliere’s love for theatrical tragedy above the comedy for which he’s loved and, although this doesn’t come across as poignantly as is probably intended, the film still accommodates it smoothly. A few incongruous or flat moments of the “climbing trellises and peering into bedrooms” variety hardly distract from the overall ebullient tone. The film also doesn’t go for the sharp satire for which Moliere’s plays are often admired, but the clownish performances by the two leads – Romain Duris with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and Fabrice Luchini with a likeable foolishness in his – make the film sparkle anyway. A few fanciful moments of absurdity, as Moliere tries to work with his bumbling benefactor, make the film especially worth it – one even reminded me of a favourite scene of mine from the UK series The Office, where David Brent gives an emotional speech in an ostrich outfit. There’s also plenty of sharp dialogue to make you grin and visually the film is sumptuous, decked out with all the ornate costumes and decor of the period.

Moliere aficionados – and likely most of the French audience – will appreciate the extra layer of meaning, as many of the scenes we watch incorporate famous lines and scenarios from Moliere’s own plays (here’s your chance to laugh knowingly at the literary references to prove your erudition to the rest of the theatre). Moliere’s fake priest “Tartuffe”, for example, is a reference to Moliere’s play Tartuffe, and the character is so famous that in contemporary language (French especially), the word “Tartuffe” means a hypocrite, especially one who fakes religious virtue. It’s funny anyway of course and – as proven by boorish old me – you certainly don’t have to know anything about Moliere or his plays to understand and enjoy the film. It avoids the literary pomp that might have dragged it down and is simply a well-told comic story.

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SMART PEOPLE (2008)

April 30, 2008

Smart People Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 95 min

Tagline:
Sometimes the smartest people have the most to learn.

Précis: Dull romantic comedy about a grouchy widower’s new relationship, and his smart but slightly strange family.

Review by Matt:

If you’re going to do a dysfunctional-family comedy, you’d better make it sharp. Dysfunctional families have remained the rage, especially since The Simpsons took the Cosby-family-backlash and really made it supreme. Arrested Development, Little Miss Sunshine, Wes Anderson films… there’s a lot of sophisticated dysfunctional-family comedy out there. Sadly, Smart People is a forgettable addition to the genre. It flutters blandly around the theme of “smart but dysfunctional” and sketches out a few ideas that don’t go anywhere interesting. Worse, despite its “alternative” pretensions, it succumbs to romantic comedy conventions in a cloyingly contrived fashion.

Leading the tedium is Dennis Quaid who plays an irritable, widowed University professor called Lawrence Wetherhold (a professor’s name if ever I’ve heard one). Lawrence has the book-smarts, but is totally insensitive when it comes to people. He’s raising a similar little misanthrope in his teenage daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), a success-obsessed Republican, who goes around fussing, achieving, and lambasting any non-achievement-focussed decision (hello to Michael J Fox in Family Ties). Evidently, Lawrence is also alienating his son James (Ashton Homes), a character revelation announced by James whenever his Dad drops by his college dorm. Lowest ranked in the family is incorrigible slacker Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church), Lawrence’s adoped brother. Chuck has come to stay with the family, seemingly to chauffer Lawrence, who is unable to drive, but in reality he’s there for some mooching. The plot of Smart People looks briefly at all of these characters. Primarily though it follows Lawrence’s fumbling foray into romance with his emergency room doctor, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), and the necessary redesigning of Lawrence’s cranky character so that the relationship can work.

It’s this undeveloped romance that is the killer blow to Smart People’s appeal. It goes through the holy trinity of weakly written romance. Firstly, the romance seems baseless. Why do they like each other? Nobody knows. Secondly, the couple sort of share a moment and then bam! – straight into bed together. Thirdly, there’s a halfway-point squabble to overcome. Even the squabble seems unnatural and unjustified. This trite trifecta all seems a lazy cheat because it was too difficult to write an honest path from friendship to love. To top it off, the characters are unlikeable. Dennis Quaid at least plays his moody intellectual well. But Sarah Jessica Parker is a flimsy piece of tissue paper, occasionally pulling coy looks, but giving nothing else to her already empty character.

The film’s other main characters, Vanessa and Chuck, are much more interesting. Ellen Page is lippy but damaged as Vanessa, like a reconfiguration of her character in Juno. The interesting subplot looking at her relationship with Chuck, her exact opposite, is only given a cursory treatment. Chuck alone is one of the best parts of the film, taking most of the good lines – but he only pops in occasionally like a comic-relief clown. Other comedy potential is also washed away in the tide of the predictable romance plot. Humorous avenues entice you, but then are quickly closed again.

Obviously it’s a frustrating result. There’s potential, but all the interesting characters and plot pieces have just been loosely sketched. Engaging ideas surface but float away to drown in the miserable romance and the “lessons in life”. Smart people will probably skip this film and watch something smarter.

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THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)

April 26, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited Review



Matt:

Length: 91 min

Précis: Typically stylish and eccentric Wes Anderson affair, but it’s faster, funnier and more engaging than previous efforts.

Review by Matt:

The Darjeeling Limited is the latest comedy/drama film from director Wes Anderson, an idiosyncratic American auteur whose previous films include The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Neither of those films appealed much to me, and I especially found The Life Aquatic tedious and distancing. The Darjeeling Limited is redolent of those films in its themes, style and cast (estranged family + deadpan tragicomedy + Owen Wilson/Bill Murray = Wes Anderson) but it is a better film and much easier to enjoy. It’s helped especially by a fast-paced first half and an irreverent wit. It’s an unusual and original (apart from other Wes Anderson films) look at familial relations.

The plot is a wandering affair following three American brothers’ reunion on an Indian train. The eldest, Francis (Owen Wilson), is a micromanager who has suckered his younger siblings Peter (Adrian Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) into joining him for a trip of spiritual and fraternal healing. Squashed for a large part of the film inside busy carriages, the brothers pinball off each other with a humorous mix of familial love and violence, fueled mostly by the recent death of their father and the manifestation of various afflictions. These include broken hearts, suicidal tendencies, prescription Indian drug abuse, fear of commitment and, in the case of Francis, a comically bandaged body due to injuries suffered in a recent motorcycle accident. The brothers hop on and off the train, bicker, reminisce, and eventually trek out into the Indian countryside in search of a mystical experience and for their estranged mother who is now a Himalayan nun.

The joy of this film is in its beautiful and fussy detail. The screen bustles with both random and revealing accoutrements and the characters are spontaneous and full of quirks. Francis lugs around a mountain of luggage and hobbles on his cane, Peter squints through his father’s prescription glasses, and Jack won’t wear shoes. Odd encounters drive the plot. For the film’s first half these are all strangely funny and there is a great sense of chaotic energy. An interesting array of side characters supports the trio of tragicomics, most of them sharing the same aloof Bill-Murray-style persona.

The Darjeeling Limited puts us on a pretty bumpy ride. Even when you think you know where you’re going, you’re likely to smack into a glass door. It has a freeform plot and, like its titular train that inexplicably loses its way in the Indian wilderness, it takes the viewers seemingly in random directions. Its structure reflects a journey rather than a neat narrative. Thus we suddenly find the brothers crashing from comic to tragic territory and the film’s second half becomes slow and meditative. It makes the film seem longer than its 90 minutes. Some viewers could feel disgruntled at the clashing tones and sprawling plot. But there’s still plenty to appreciate in the film’s looseness.

What is most admirable is the meaning that slowly emerges as you weave together a thousand scraggly threads of detail. Little things the brothers do, say to each other, and encounters they have, blend together with a nice mix of intrigue and revelation. The film is also smashingly designed, with its classy framing and tracking shots, a colourful set, and the occasional enjoyable intrusion of turbulent Indian life. Add in the atmospheric soundtrack and you’ve a stylishness that really coats on a bonus layer of pleasure.

Like other Wes Anderson films, The Darjeeling Limited remains a potential audience divider, but it’s the best of his films for showcasing his sense of stylish melancholy, and probably the film with the most accessible characters (though they still mostly remain ponderous). It may not be totally emotionally satisfying, but you’ll at least see an individual style in action, and it could be the style that tickles you just right. Or it could annoy you. I found it a funny and fascinating ride.

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LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007)

April 19, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl Review



Matt:

Length: 106 min

Tagline:
The search for true love begins outside the box.

Précis: Sweet and gently funny film about a man who believes his doll is real, and his friends’ efforts to support him.

Review by Matt:

Lars and the Real Girl takes a fairly eccentric premise – man treats sex-doll as if it is a real woman – and turns it into a touching film about a damaged man’s battle to face up to life’s difficulties and embrace adult responsibilities. If you’re after American Pie style jokes about sex-dolls: wrong film. In fact if you’re a teenager looking at all for a juvenile guffaw: wrong film. From a distance, Lars and the Real Girl probably looks like it could have been all smutty chuckles, possibly featuring an oily Rob Schneider. But Australian director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver (writer of TV’s Six-Feet Under) haven’t been tempted by the potential for vulgar laughs. Instead they’ve created something much more sensitive. Lars and the Real Girl still has a humorous touch, but it’s primarily a sweet and feel-good film that is much more about people and community than it is about sex dolls.

It must have been hard to nail down the right tone in a film where a man sits at dinner with his brother, sister-in-law, and “Bianca”, a life-size, anatomically-complete female doll. Indeed Lars and the Real Girl walks a fairly thin line between lovely and preposterous. But generally it keeps its balance and it’s quite easy to be drawn into the film’s sentimental mood. Much of the credit for this goes to the splendid Ryan Gosling, who plays the pathologically nervous Lars. He gives Lars a likeable sincerity and transforms most of the potential for creepiness into a childish naivety. The nuanced performance intimates at traumatic scars that might lurk behind Lars’ delusion.

So, when Lars’ brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’s wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) stare with sadness and disbelief at Lars and his silicone sweetheart, we mostly share their stress and concern. It’s a concern ultimately shared by the entire hamlet where Lars lives, because the family doctor (Patricia Clarkson) explains that Bianca appears completely real to Lars and that the best way to help him is to indulge his delusion. “What would Jesus do?” asks the town priest when presented with the problem. Evidently Jesus’s compassion extends to man, beast and sex-doll, because soon all of the friendly townsfolk are going out of their way to entertain Lars and his mate. Although the film isn’t noisy about it, it sure is nice to see the church accepting of this unconventional couple. The rest of the story follows the town’s efforts to be accommodating and Lars’ own efforts to emerge into life as a functioning adult without the support of his artificial crotch – ahem – crutch.

It’s entertaining to watch the townsfolk react to the predicament. Lars’ brother is understandably mortified and disbelieving, channeling some of our own feelings. Others are more laid back and lighthearted about it. The remaining entertainment comes from watching Lars’ doctor and others try to unravel the psychological complexities behind poor Lars’ condition. It’s all a little bit like a warped It’s a Wonderful Life. You know inside that the outpouring of empathy isn’t quite realistic (how many strangers and their sex-dolls have you entertained recently?), and you can quickly see why the film had to be set in a tiny close-knit community. But, gosh, you also know inside that this is how people should treat each other.  It’s best not to think about it harder than that. If you begin to imagine that this is a film that is seriously examining mental illness, its light-on approach is potentially offensive. Best just to look at it as promoting a general message of tolerance.

Even within this model of unreality, some elements of the film still stretch reality a bit too far, particularly  the part of Margo (Kelli Garner), Lars’ saccharine work colleague. She’s Lars’ real real girl; Margo is not just understanding, she also has an inexplicable romantic interest in Lars. What’s annoying is that she really has no reason to desire Lars – he’s unkind to her and, of course, he’s a bit freaky. It’s one of those all-too-common movie conceits that we’re supposed to accept that Margo seems to have psychically absorbed all the privileged insights about Lars that we’ve been shown as an audience. The Margo on screen is actually distanced from Lars, and it would have been nicer to see her discover a magic in Lars for herself.

Lars and the Real Girl is a decent film and an enjoyable watch. It’s a fairly mild experience, but it’s quirky with some scattered laughs and it is pleasantly life-affirming. It’s commendable that it achieved this through such an unusual avenue and that’s due to a strong, consistent vision, realized with thoughtful acting, writing and direction.

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HORTON HEARS A WHO! (2008)

April 17, 2008

Horton Hears a Who! Review


Matt:

Length: 88 min

Taglines:
One Elephant One World One Story.
Who-mongous!
The Next Big Comedy Event.
A person’s a person no matter how small!

Précis: Charming and clever adaptation of Dr Seuss’s story that is actually a great laugh for adults too.

Review by Matt:

Horton Hears a Who! is another big budget, star-ridden, animated kids’ blockbuster. As an embellished adaptation of Dr Seuss’s famous children’s rhyme of the same name, Horton Hears a Who! has really got it going on for the kids. It’s imaginative, colourful, funny and friendly. But whether a film like this is truly high quality or not, it sometimes seems its target age group will always scream with delight, do some cartwheels, eat the happy meal, and then fall asleep on the way home. The true contest is: can it also appeal to you, the more discerning adult viewer?

The answer is a joyous ‘yes’. And unexpectedly so. I saw Horton Hears a Who! with some trepidation. Firstly, I’m not a kid. But secondly, I’m also not really a fan of Twentieth Century Fox Animations’ previous efforts, Robots and the Ice Age films. They seemed to lack the clever sparkle that made some of the Pixar hits – such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille – a hoot for adults as well. But, with Horton Hears a Who!, Fox found the sparkle. It is a frenzied delight, both clever and slapstick-funny, resulting in one of the most entertaining movies around at the moment for viewers of all ages.

Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) is an affable jungle elephant who one day hears tiny voices emanating from a speck of dust. He’s not crazy – his elephant ears have detected the sounds of an infinitesimal, fun-loving civilization called “Whos”. The Whos, led by their loveable Mayor (voiced by Steve Carrell), are cheerful oddballs and they love “Whoville”, a place of curves and contraptions that is quintessentially Seussian (and that could lead to a whole new wave of ‘sea-monkey’ sales). But in the world outside their world, the Whos’ speck-sized planet has been dislodged. Lucky thing Horton has nestled it safely in a flower so that he can find a place for safe resettlement. Unfortunately, Horton’s mission is impeded by the Jungle’s waspish matriarch (voiced by Carol Burnett), a kangaroo who surely would be out of a job if her name didn’t rhyme with “who”. Unable to hear the tiny Whos, Kangaroo is incensed at Horton’s imagination, insisting (rather fanatically) that imagination leads to rebellion and rebellion to anarchy. Meanwhile down in Whoville, the poor Mayor is the only one who can hear Horton, and he struggles to convince the inhabitants of a world where nothing has ever gone wrong, that something is about to go spectacularly wrong.

Horton Hears a Who! is tightly packed with action and movement – there are things flying around all over the place. As you’d expect, the animation is top-quality, but it is also directed smartly and a couple of the elaborate action sequences are great. But best of all, the film has a sense of humour with a taste for the absurd (the sudden ridiculous pop-song tickled me just right) and it is often, surprisingly, uproarious. Like many modern animations, it is also self-aware, which allows for a few smart anti‑climax jokes and a great parody sequence of the animated style. Maybe kids these days are getting used to post-modern animations (is post-post-modern on the way?) but I still love it when cartoons make jokes by defying genre conventions.

Using quality comedic actors for the voices also pays off. Steve Carrell plays a combination of his other “loveable doofus” characters, giving the Mayor a klutzy charm. Jim Carey uses just about the right balance of comedic wackiness for Horton, keeping the volume well below his maximum setting of “Ace Ventura”. Will Arnett gives an amusing exaggerated evil to Vlad, a vampiric vulture who sounds exactly as you would expect an evil character called Vlad to sound. With two evil vulture roles in a row (he was also the evil vulture in Ice Age 2) Will Arnett also cements himself as the number one vulture-voice guy in town.

Inside its zany shell, Horton Hears a Who! tells a pretty simple moral tale, championing Dr Seuss’s worthy maxim of universal humanity: “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” The characters do seem a bit representational; Kangaroo is especially extreme – and kind of irritating – in all her imagination-crushing authority. The willingness of the jungle folk to be moulded into a lynch mob is also a bit disheartening. The film’s decrying of the “it doesn’t exist if you can’t see it” attitude could easily be interpreted as a religious comment, but thankfully it doesn’t really push this at us. In fact, the only pushing is saved for better messages: that we should stand up to the dream-crushers and that we should care for everyone, even the little folks. It’s a nice message to teach the little folks watching Horton Hears a Who. Of course, it doesn’t go astray on the big folks either (Dr Seuss’s original story was apparently a parable about the US occupation of Japan). But, the best bit of all is that it comes in a consistently hilarious and fun package.

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DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007)

April 3, 2008

Dan in Real Life Review
Dan in Real Life Screenshot

Matt:

Length: 98 min

Tagline:
Something’s happening to Dan. It’s confusing. It’s awkward. It’s family.

Précis: Likeable, but run-of-the-mill romantic comedy emerges as a puff of family fluff.

Review by Matt:

Poor Dan (Steve Carrell). He’s the protagonist in one of those conventional Hollywood family romantic comedies. That means that he is a good, middleclass, middle-aged father and a nice guy, but he’s a widower raising three young daughters alone. The daughters are typically unimpressed with their Dad – he is embarrassingly overprotective, uncool etc – so when the whole extended family gather for Thanksgiving at the Rhode Island lodge belonging to Dan’s parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest), Dan wanders into town to give them some girl-time. Browsing in a bookshop, Dan miraculously meets, chats to, and *snap* falls in love, with a charming stranger, Marie (Juliette Binoche). She’s in a relationship, but he scores her number anyway. Later back at the lodge, the new girlfriend of Dan’s brother Mitch (Dane Cook) arrives. Oh, guess who it is? Yep. Marie from the bookshop. The sparks in Dan’s heart turn to needles. He’s going to need to keep this whole thing a secret from his large and inquisitional family.

After its setup, Dan in Real Life carries on in the key of “unrequited love” a bit too long and loudly. For most of its length we watch as Dan pulls his hair out and a waterfall of ironic and frustrating events pour over him: Dan stuck behind jazzercising Marie; Dan trapped in close quarters with Marie; Mitch and Marie crawling over each other in a (poorly executed) yoga pose while Dan looks on. Etc. Dan’s frustration leads to foolish, jealous behaviour which earns the scorn and concern of his omnipresent family and, according to the movie poster, can be relieved by laying one’s head down onto a stack of pancakes. Problem is, we get it after the first ten minutes. Each new frustration doesn’t vary the melody, it just amplifies it.

Perhaps these standard romantic comedy plotlines are revisited so often because they really do echo the trials we all face in real life. But in real life we don’t actually know what is going to happen. Here we do. We’re also catapulted to this ending so suddenly that messy streaks of pretence are left all over. In real life we also don’t speak in Hollywood or sit-com platitudes, as they do in this film. The levels of cliché are occasionally so elevated that you may find yourself cringing and saying out loud “No, don’t say tha – ohh, I can’t believe they just said that.” Screenwriter Peter Hedges was lauded for his earlier work About a Boy. Admittedly I was irked by the trite sentimentality in that film too. Dan in Real Life has about the same level. Just to fully make this point: the romantic compliment “I thought I died because an angel just walked in to the room” is pitched to us as a serious line. Try saying that to someone in real life and see how it goes.

The offset to all this is, of course, that Dan in Real Life is actually a pretty nice and likeable film (in my opinion, a lot more likeable than About a Boy). It has humour and romance and a whole lot of sit-com ‘Christmas-special’ style sentimentality (thoughtless comments from rude uncles, family talent shows etc). It’s a comedy, obviously, but it’s a featherweight one. There are funny moments, but nothing to really surprise you, prick you, or make you laugh too heartily. Steve Carrell is the best part of the film; he has a comic spark that lets him overclock the meagre humour in not-so-funny lines and situations. But inevitably Dan in Real Life resides somewhere in the bland no-man’s land of standard Hollywood fare. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s ok. It’s just that it’s so dulled by convention and niceness that it emerges as a big puff of family fluff.