Dan in Real Life (2007)


Dan in Real Life
Dir. Peter Hedges
Premiered October 26, 2007

Why are you all so obsessed with this movie?

Dan in Real Life was heavily advertised in October 2007, though not in a way that said much about the film, promoting it essentially as a vehicle for Steve Carell at (to date) the height of his stardom. The obscuring of the film’s actual plot suggested it wasn’t good.

What’s more, that very month I became part of the fledgling commentariat at the website The A.V. Club, among which Dan in Real Life became memetically beloved. I assumed this was ironic, but no, the critical consensus was generally positive, emphasizing the performances and heralding a romantic comedy “for grownups.”

The titular Dan is widower Dan Burns (Steve Carell), a advice columnist for his local newspaper who’s under consideration to become nationally syndicated. With no social life, Dan pours most of his energy into a steadfast refusal to accept that his three daughters (Alison Pill, Britt Daniels, and Marlene Lawston) are growing up.

Invited to spend Thanksgiving weekend (I think) with his large family in Rhode Island, Dan steals away to a bookstore where he becomes smitten with the effortlessly charming and patient Marie Diamond (Juliette Binoche), only to discover that Marie is in fact the new girlfriend of his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook). What Marie sees as an innocent mistake weighs heavily on Dan, whose awkward attempts to keep his distance only bring the two closer together.

Dan in Real Life, while I acknowledge is good, is really not my kind of movie. Luckily, I watched the film with my mom, who is a total sucker for depressing movies about familial dysfunction in New England (one such film, Pieces of April, was also directed by Peter Hedges). The choice to set a character-based romance in a sea of characters is questionable; trying, it seems, to split the difference between a small rom-com and a big ensemble holiday film. But for the most part, it works, especially the chemistry between Carell and Binoche, as well as endearing turns from John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest as Dan’s parents (not unexpectedly, the weakest link is Dane Cook as Mitch). I still don’t get the hype, but it was pretty damn solid.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Dan frets over his second daughter Cara’s (Britt Robertson) colorful underwear and butt-emblazoned ultra-low-rise designer sweatpants. Becoming a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist is still lucrative.

Additional Notes
Goddamn, this movie is white. This family plays football together, puts on a talent show. If another person tells me that Jews are white, I am going to play them this movie.

How Did It Do?
Dan in Real Life grossed $68.4 million against a $25 million budget and earned a 65% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. Most critics found the film pleasant enough but wished it had been more daring with its subject matter. Essentially, it did well but not well enough to warrant any particular interest, hence The A.V. Club’s ironic obsession with an imagined sequel.

Next Time: Bee Movie


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