Dan in Real Life comes to DVD soon, and I managed to get a copy to write a review. This is one of those films that I had planned to see in theaters, but just never got around to seeing it. Having watched it, I can now confirm that my subconscious hesitations were accurate, that the reason I never quite willed myself to the theaters the way I do for so many other films is that the movie simply lacks spark.
Dan in Real Life entertains on a basic level, as Carell trudges through an awkward awakening long after the death of his wife. Carell and those around him, including Dane Cook and Juliette Binoche, are good enough, and the movie offers enough laughs and cutesy moments to make it worthy of a viewing. Yet, director Peter Hedges never establishes his film as a stable comedy or romance; more true to life, perhaps, but Dan in Real Life feels oddly flat at times. Even Carell can't make much of the screenplay, which is well written except that it lacks flare.
The movie is about a paranoid and overprotective father of three girls who goes to stay with his parents for a few days. While in town, he meets a beautiful and intelligent woman named Anne Marie (Binoche), and the two immediately hit it off on a plutonic level. Dan is enamored, and races home to tell his family. Unfortunately, as he finds out, Anne Marie is his brother's Annie, which means not only is she unavailable but she's dating the absolute last person in the world he would ever want to betray. Still, as the weekend goes on, Dan finds himself struggling to suppress his emotions.
Women will most likely find Dan in Real Life more entertaining than men, as it works far better as a romantic comedy than a comedy. Hedges and Pierce Gardner should be warmly received for developing an awkward romantic story that never really slips into the stereotypical pattern of most romantic comedies, while still maintaining a cute element that will appeal to females. In this way, the almost-romance between Carell and Binoche feels more real; the chemistry between the two actors is also decent enough. Ultimately, this film is an independent romantic comedy, and it works as such.
Still, those who have become fans of Carell from his other pieces of work, whether it be The 40-Year Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine or "The Office", will find Dan in Real Life somewhat bland at times. The movie is entertaining enough, but not nearly as funny or interesting as I was expecting. The movie didn't need to be full of the gags found in other Carell films, but at times it appears Carell was bursting at the seams to just let loose.
Dan in Real Life has its moments and will appeal to some, but it feels lacking at times. It's a worthwhile rental when there's nothing else to do, but I wouldn't watch this movie again.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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