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DAN IN REAL LIFE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, John Mahoney, Emily Blunt, Dianne Wiest
Director: Peter Hedges
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2008

“Instead of telling our young people to plan ahead, we should tell them to plan to be surprised.”

Film ***1/2

The quote above can easily relate to the movies, as you should always plan to be surprised by one every once in a while. Such was the case with Dan In Real Life, a breezy charmer of a comedy that I’m convinced is impossible not to like by anyone who watches it. Human comedies have been in short supply recently, and this one is the best such comedy to come around in some time.

It’s refreshing to know that a big comedy star like Steve Carell is expanding his acting range this early in his career. After the success of The 40 Year Old Virgin and his TV hit The Office, Carell made a wise choice to do a more serious turn as the suicidal member of a dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine. Now the former Daily Show correspondent turns in another wonderful performance in this heartwarming dramedy. 

Dan Burns (Carell) is an acclaimed advice columnist and single father who may be on the verge of being syndicated. In fact, that possibility is the only thing going well for Dan in his life right now. He’s about to leave for a family gathering in Rhode Island along with his three daughters, two of which are in their teens and at their father’s throat for different reasons.

So what should be a trouble-free time with the folks soon turns into an extremely complicated situation. When visiting a nearby bookstore, Dan has a most awkward encounter with a beauty named Anne-Marie (Juliette Binoche). However, Dan is initially smitten with her and gets her phone number, only to see her later that day at the family home, as she turns out to be the girlfriend of his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

A plot like this could easily play out like a lame sitcom in the wrong hands. However, the screenplay by Pierce Gardner and director Peter Hedges, handles the material most intelligently and there are plenty of laughs to be had. A lot of that has to do with the flawless performance from Steve Carell, who you believe right from the start as a widow who doesn’t quite know how to handle the complicated situation involving his feelings for the woman dating his brother.

The film also handles the situations with Dan’s daughter in a more realistic fashion, as well. We’re not that used to seeing realistic father/daughter relationships in the movies, at least not lately. The screenplay mixes comedy and seriousness terrifically, including his middle daughter’s first experience with teenage love and his oldest daughter’s urge to begin driving, both issues Dan seems to be dead set against.

Add to the mix a wonderful batch of songs on the soundtrack from a fresh singer/songwriter, Sondre Lerche, and you’ve got a most winning film that is, if anything, irresistible. Dan in Real Life showcases Steve Carell’s ever-growing versatility as an actor and comedic performer. And the movie itself provides an equal measure of comedy and drama, adding up to one of the more charming films of recent memory.

Video ****

Disney/Touchstone delivers a surprisingly astonishing looking presentation. The flawless picture quality is nothing but crisp and lush, making the New England setting even more realistic and beautiful. Outdoor scenes turn out most strongly, and the array of colors in the presentation is most incredible!

Audio ***

Though the film is no more than a dialogue driven piece, the 5.1 mix does a most exceptional job with the sound performance. The presentation also gets an added bonus in the form of the performance of the songs on the soundtrack, which are heard in outstanding form. Dialogue delivery is top notch, as well.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track with director/co-writer Peter Hedges, Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, two featurettes; “Just Like Family: The Making of Dan in Real Life” and “Handmade Music: Creating the Score”, and a gag reel.

Summary:

Dan in Real Life is indeed a surprise. A sweet natured and very hilarious human comedy, which is hard to come by nowadays. In addition, it makes quite the perfect date movie.

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