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Dan in Real Life

Sporadically Entertaining and Not Very Real

In less than five years, Steve Carell has effortlessly eased from a featured spot on "The Daily Show" to his own award-winning television series, "The Office" and, unsurprisingly, a move to big screen roles, first in supporting roles (e.g. Bewitched, Bruce Almighty), then in a star-making turn in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year Old Virgin) and, just last year, an acclaimed turn in the ensemble comedy/drama Little Miss Sunshine. In a bid for broader appeal, Carell starred in Evan Almighty, a big-budget sequel to Bruce Almighty that pretty much went straight to video. Carell’s lead role in Dan in Real Life does little to dispel the suggestion that Carell is losing his edge in the hopes of gaining mainstream success.

Dan Burns (Steve Carell), a widower and the overprotective father of two teenagers, Jane (Alison Pill), Cara (Brittany Robertson), and one preteen, Lilly (Marlene Lawston), makes a comfortable living as an advice columnist with the potential to go national via syndication. Trouble is, his teenage daughters don’t listen much to him and rankle at his stifling rules and cautious approach to living. Seventeen-year old Jane wants Dan to let her drive the family car and fifteen-year old Cara is infatuated with a local boy. Hoping for respite from the conflict from his daughters, Dan takes them for the annual family gathering at his father (John Mahoney) and mother’s (Dianne Wiest) waterfront cabin.

Peace, however, doesn’t follow Dan. After another argument with Cara, Dan makes a quick getaway to the local bookstore where he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), a Frenchwoman also on vacation. Mistaken for a bookstore clerk, Dan impresses Marie with his general knowledge and reading tips. After Marie discovers Dan’s ruse, they decide to go for coffee, where the quickly smitten Dan shares some intimate information with Marie. Before he can turn the tables on her though, she runs off without telling him where she’s going: meeting her boyfriend Mitch’s (Dane Cook) family for the first time. Mitch is, of course, Dan’s brother.

Dan in Real Life shares much in common with Meet the Parents, [bThe Family Stone, and writer/director Peter Hedges' earlier film, Pieces of April. All four films involve the discomfort and dysfunction of family life. Dan in Real Life also borrows the romantic triangle element from The Family Stone.

Not surprisingly, Dan in Real Life is as formulaic, predictable and conventional as you’d expect from a Hollywood romantic comedy. With the absence of originality, the movie is only as good as the dialogue, the verbal/physical humor, and the performances. Dan in Real Life has all that going for it at least. It’s also a, mostly, inoffensive message about following your heart, listening to your children, and the restorative power of romantic love.

For some, perhaps many, moviegoers, these reasons won’t be enough to convince them to see Dan in Real Life. Whatever their thoughts about its themes, however, Carell’s fans are likely to be disappointed with his eager transition from comedian and political satirist to an actor typecasting himself as an upper middle-class shlub squirming his way toward banal realizations about himself and the meaning of life.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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