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DAN IN REAL LIFE (director/writer: Peter Hedges; screenwriter: Pierce Gardner; cinematographer: Lawrence Sher; editor: Sarah Flack; music: Sondre Lerche; cast: Steve Carell (Dan Burns), Juliette Binoche (Marie), Dane Cook (Mitch), Alison Pill (Jane), Brittany Robertson (Cara), Marlene Lawston (Lilly), Emily Blunt (Ruthie), Amy Ryan (Eileen), Norbert Leo Butz (Clay), Dianne Wiest (Nana), John Mahoney (Poppy), Felipe Dieppa (Marty Barasco), Matthew Morrison (Policeman); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jon Shestack/ Brad Epstein; Touchstone Pictures; 2007)
“Carell is appealing and the family drama plays out as something real that sort of sneaks up on you in a good way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Co-writer-director Peter Hedges (“Pieces of April”) joyfully directs this sweetly contrived comedic drama about the romantic woes of a single father that tells us “love is messy,” as the main character learns valuable life lessons. There’s not many laugh-out-loud funny moments but the situation looks real enough and in the end it’s the dramatics and the film’s big heart that make this baby work. It’s co-written by Pierce Gardner, as the writing team patched together this derivative comedy from many other such screwball comedies in the last few decades.

The uptight, cerebral and sensitive Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is an advice columnist for his local New Jersey newspaper, whose common sense advice is not followed in his own rocky life. He’s still mourning his beloved wife who died four years ago, and doesn’t date. He lives in a perpetual war zone with his argumentative and testy daughters, the youngest, the fourth-grader Lilly, the 15-year-old boy crazy Cara and the oldest, 17-year-old Jane who wants to drive dad’s car with her student license but is always denied (Marlene Lawston, Brittany Robertson and Alison Pill). The sitcom plot centers around the widower and his three daughters attending the annual family reunion in Rhode Island in their parents’ (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) spacious home. While browsing in the local bookstore of the coastal R.I. village of his folks, Dan falls in love at first sight with Marie (Juliette Binoche) and meets her when he poses as a store clerk advising her what books to choose. Dan doesn’t realize until he returns to his parents’ house that Marie’s the girlfriend of his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), an amiable but shallow ladies man who met Marie when she attended his exercise class. But prior to realizing that Marie was dating his brother, he told his nagging family, who egg him on to socialize, that he met the perfect woman in a bookstore that morning. The awkward situation that develops is in how Dan slyly competes for Marie without his brother realizing it.

There might not be much here in depth, but Carell is appealing and the family drama plays out as something real that sort of sneaks up on you in a good way. It’s smart observant stuff without being edgy or pushy, as it charms in an almost natural and unforced way.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”