Posts Tagged ‘Dan in Real Life’



April 3, 2008

Dan in Real Life Review
Dan in Real Life Screenshot


Length: 98 min

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.