Dan In Real Life


Directed by: Peter Hedges
Written by:Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Alison Pill
Released: February 14, 2008
Grade: C+

Dan Burns (Carell) gives advice to people in a newspaper column.  They write in with their problems and Dan does his best to give them a solution.  The column is called “Dan In Real Life”.  Dan’s hoping it’ll be picked up for syndication and published in more high profile newspapers.

Dan may be great at fixing other people’s problems but he’ll terrible at solving his own.  Four years ago, his wife passed away and life has been a battle ever since.  He has been left to raise his three daughters on his own and that’s not easy.  Two of them are in their teenage years and they don’t like to listen to their “know-it-all” dad.  It’s creating a lot of tension in the household.

Each year, Dan’s parents (Wiest and Mahoney) host a week long get-together for their extended family. Everyone gets to catch up and they play a bunch of fun games.  It’s kind of like a longer version of Christmas.  I don’t really understand why they do it but it has become a family tradition.

It is here where the majority of the film is set.  Over the next week, Dan’s already problematic life will be turned upside down.  He will face a barrage of questions from his inquisitive brothers and sisters.  How is he coping?  How are things with the kids?  How’s his column going?  How’s his love life?  Dan’s finding the “holiday” rather claustrophobic.

After escaping the house one morning, Dan ends up in a bookstore and becomes involved in a humorous conversation with a woman named Marie (Binoche).  She thinks Dan works at the store and asks that he recommend a good book.  They share a few laughs, go for coffee and then exchange phone numbers.  Have things finally turned around for Dan?  Has he found love for a second time?  It won’t be as easy as you think…   

I never really liked this film and for the first hour, I couldn’t figure out why.  Then a realisation swept over me – it’s because I don’t like Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Evan Almighty).  Carell may be one of the most popular comedians working today but I find him very one-dimensional.  I feel like I’m watching the same character every time I see him.  In Dan In Real Life, I was frustrated by his neurotic behaviour and had trouble believing his “love at first sight” experience with Marie.

There are glimpses of promise in this film.  I liked the moral dilemmas that certain characters had to face up to.  Should they do what is best for them or should they do what is best for others?  They often surprised me with their answers.  These interesting moments are ruined with an array of silly jokes (e.g. the shower scene with Dan and Marie) and hard-to-believe plot developments (e.g. the fate of Mitch’s character).

Dan In Real Life is a film which is trying to be different but unfortunately, it tries too hard.