Life Turns Carell in to a Desperate Dan
"Dan in Real Life" is not the sort of movie you would necessarily associate with a comedian such as Steve Carell especially if you have seen his previous outrageously funny performance in "The 40 Year Old Virgin". The reason being is that "Dan in Real Life" is a more family orientated movie which although is funny and entertaining is more about the emotions of the characters rather than delivering the over the top humour you may have expected. It certainly isn't a bad movie and will most likely have you smiling by the time it finishes.
Newspaper agony Uncle Dan Burns (Steve Carell - Evan Almighty) has his hands full keeping control of his three daughters who are growing up far too quickly for his liking. The girls are still grieving for their mother who died four years ago, and Dan hasn't found the time to date since her death. So he is more than surprised when he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche - Bee Season) at a bookstore during the annual family vacation to his parents' Rhode Island home. But his happiness is short-lived when he learns that she is seeing his brother Mitch (Dane Cook - Employee of the Month), forcing Dan to hide his true feelings for Marie.
"Dan in Real Life" is actually quite clever, on one hand you have Dan who dishes out advice in his weekly newspaper column and as a single dad is trying to give the same advice to his three daughters. But then you have the change in circumstances which sees Dan basically going against all the advice he dishes out on the likes of falling in love but then giving hypocritical advice to his children. It's certainly not a complex storyline and you won't for a minute struggle to follow the story as it unravels but it is interesting especially as you see Dan struggle with going against all the advice he not only dishes out but believes in.
There is a problem though and it's the fact that a lot of the storyline feels too contrived. It's probably just me but having crammed in several elements to the storyline which will cause Dan to go against his own advice it doesn't always flow as naturally as maybe it could have. It's not a terrible thing and it does mean that the movie goes along at an ideal pace so that there are no lulls in the storyline or between scenes and is probably just me being a little picky. But this does cause a knock on effect of the romantic side of the storyline to be a little lost amongst everything else and never reaching the real romantic feel that the movie should achieve and in some ways deserves.
Thanks to all the soul searching there is plenty of humour in "Dan in Real Life", but not the over top or gross out comedy which you may expect from Carell going on his previous movies. The humour is a lot tamer, often slightly quirky but still highly enjoyable. Most of the humour comes from the situations which Dan finds himself in, such as the scene where he is hiding in a shower when his daughter enters the bathroom, or when he is pulled up for speeding by the local police man despite having advised his daughter on being a safe driver. Although some of the humour is more orchestrated as in the case where his parents set Dan up on a date with Ruthie Draper, which leads to the impromptu song Ruthie “Pig Face” Draper. It's certainly a much gentler sort of humour and not at all offensive which makes "Dan in Real Life" almost family friendly and a little quirky.
The thing which really makes "Dan in Real Life" enjoyable is the performance of Steve Carell who having that look of being an average sort of guy means he can play both those funny roles as well as ones like this which allows him to show a bit more acting skill. I say acting skill as it doesn't actually feel like Carell is really acting, rather just playing scenes in a very natural sort of way. The advice he dishes out is the sort of thing you would expect from any single father of 3 daughters and the way you see him get up each day to me looks like a man who feels he has the stresses of parenthood weighing heavily on his shoulders. It's not all straight laced stuff and there are scenes which allow Carell to stretch his comedic legs, one of which is the very memorable dancing, yes another Carell movie where he dances.
Matching Carell is the wonderful Juliette Binoche who is one of the few of today's stars who manage to play roles in a way similar to those greats from Hollywood's golden age. She is undeniably beautiful in a classic sense and the French influenced English accent is charming rather than grating, which could easily have been the case. Just like Carell it doesn't feel like her performance as Marie is forced instead coming over very naturally and working well in conjunction with Carell's.
Out of the supporting performances well Dane Cook does a much better than expected turn as the slightly shallow Mitch and Dianne Wiest as well as John Mahoney (Frasier) do wonderful jobs at keeping the Burns family get together relatively calm as the heads of the family.
What this all boils down to is that "Dan in Real Life" is an easy going movie which will not only leave you feeling happy but also shown you that Steve Carell is not just a one trick pony who is as good as the semi-serious stuff as he is with the outright hilarious. It may not be overly memorable but it is entertaining and good fun.