Dan in Real Life (2007)

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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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Good Luck Chuck (2007)

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Good Luck Chuck
Dir. Mark Helfrich
Premiered at Maui June 13, 2007

I was really dreading this one. It had 5% on RottenTomatoes. It was called all manner of sexist, homophobic, and racist. It has a character who is those things, but mostly it’s just awful. The story is awful. The humor is awful. The actors are awful. Good Luck Chuck is not original in its badness, but it definitely excels at being bad in a normal way.

Every seven years or so, some awful, obnoxious comedian becomes immensely popular among middle schoolers. I personally was just barely too young to have been a fan of Tom Green, and just barely too old to have been a fan of Good Luck Chuck’s star, Dane Cook. Although I’m not totally familiar with his work, I understand that his comedy routine is that he talks fast, and sometimes does a whiny voice.

Even if you liked Dane Cook’s comedy, I don’t think you could realistically expect him to excel at movies. Acting and being able to tell jokes are two very different skills, and though many people can do both, Dane Cook is a leaden, underacting lump. Nevertheless, Hollywood had to try, and gave him three starring roles: 2006’s Employee of the Month, 2007’s Good Luck Chuck, and 2008’s My Best Friend’s Girl.

By Summer 2007, Cook’s star was already fading, though he briefly and bizarrely spent the late summer and early fall as the face of Major League Baseball. Good Luck Chuck received scathing reviews and barely made back its budget and marketing cost, helping to kill Cook’s star for good. In the film, Cook plays Charlie Logan, a dentist with an unusual past: when he was ten years old, a creepy goth girl attempted to rape him during a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven. When he resisted her advances, she put a hex on him, vowing that any woman who slept with him would immediately find true love with someone else.

Now in his thirties, word of Charlie’s “good luck charm” has gotten out, and women line up at his dental practice in order to have sex with him and meet the man they will marry. Charlie is not convinced the hex is real, but worries when he falls madly for the supernaturally clumsy Cam Wexler (Jessica Alba). As a side note, Cam’s clumsiness was advertised as the film’s central premise; in reality it factors little into the story and is totally abandoned halfway through.

After sleeping with Cam, Charlie is terrified that she will meet someone else, and goes into hardcore creepy stalker mode, turning her away. Charlie realizes that it’s best to let things be, until he is convinced to chase her again, because it’s the right thing to do. But first he has to undo the hex.

Good Luck Chuck is most clearly influenced by the previous year’s darkhorse comedy hit, Wedding Crashers. If you have ever wanted to see a four-minute Wedding Crashers-style montage of Dane Cook fucking, this is your movie. But there are a few crucial differences:

  1. Wedding Crashers stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are generally charming, or at worst enjoyably crass; Dane Cook by contrast is startlingly uncharismatic.

  2. The guys in Wedding Crashers were equal-opportunity manwhores, whereas Cook’s conquests are all white, which weirded me out to an unexpected level.

  3. Wedding Crashers did not have a supernatural gimmick involving the sexual assault of a child.

  4. The violently misogynistic character in Wedding Crashers is the villain, whereas that character in Good Luck Chuck is the wacky sidekick. Yes, America’s sweetheart Dan Fogler plays the world’s most obnoxious Leisure Suit Larry, plastic surgeon Stu. Charlie hates him, yet they are best friends. I know it’s standard for male leads in rom-coms to have a best friend they would never actually be friends with in real life, but the trope reaches a new low here in a scene no human being ever wanted to see wherein Charlie catches Stu having sex with a canteloupe while sticking a brush up his ass.

Good Luck Chuck is basically an irredeemable piece of garbage. The characters are loathsome or nonexistent. The moral is nonsensical and horrifying. The plot seems to have been made up as shooting progressed. But even though it is so bad, it is still very, very conventionally bad. It is the worst of its kind, but it’s a common kind.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Penguins. Holy shit, penguins. Cam works with and is obsessed with penguins. There is a running theme of penguins eating their own shit. At one point, Charlie plays a penguin-kaiju video game. He’s wearing a headset even though it appears to be single-player mode. The movie has an epilogue set in Antarctica; I didn’t expect it to have something in common with Encounters at the End of the World (coming shortly).

In addition, an a capella group sings a rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love;” Fogler drives a chrome-encrusted Hummer H2 Ice; two women are depicted as disgustingly subhuman because they have pubic hair; one of the aforementioned women also has a “George W.” tattoo; Palm Pilots are referenced, which even in 2007 is kinda weird and backward; and the movie opens with an 80s flashback.

Additional Notes

  • Wacky Strings. The entire score is wacky strings. It is the worst movie score I can recall since The Fifth Element. 
  • Lonny Ross is in this movie. His character smokes pot. That’s it. We never see him do it, but he sure talks about it a lot.
  • This movie was very obviously shot in Vancouver, so it attempts to compensate with a product placement for American Airlines. Bam, America. Problem solved.

How Did It Do?
As said before, the movie got a 5% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes and barely broke even, grossing $59.2 million against a $25 million budget. It was nominated for a couple razzies. There isn’t a lot more to be unpacked there.

Around the time of Good Luck Chuck’s release, however, Cook was increasingly dogged by plagiarism allegations that never went away. His film work mostly dried up, he kept getting acting gigs that fell through, and when he did return to star in a movie, it was in a little-seen, critically reviled science fiction film. All of this seems approximately just.

Next Time: Nancy Drew