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  Dan in Real Life

Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, John Mahoney, Emily Blunt

Directed by: Peter Hedges

Produced by: Jonathan Shestack, Brad Epstein

Written by: Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges

Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution


     Like the recent Feast of Love, Dan in Real Life proves that a great cast isnít always able to elevate a poorly constructed picture beyond the level of mediocrity. Iím not sure what has happened to co-writer/director Peter Hedgesí since he made 2003ís wonderfully charming Pieces of April, but it surely hasnít affected him for the better. Dan in Real Life is an example of a filmmaker operating on autopilot, tiresomely moving from scene to scene without any real sense of purpose beyond selling a manufactured product. In the case of this motion picture, Hedges apparently didnít feel the need to come up with anything especially creative in terms of story or character; he merely assumed that the many talents of Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook (surprisingly good here), Diane Wiest, and John Mahoney would make the movie into a winner. 

     In one sense, the aforementioned functions as a testament to the acting abilities of the cast of Dan in Real Life. The performances on display in the movie are uniformly engaging and effortless, nearly working in exactly the way Hedges wanted. The identifiably humorous sense of everyman-ism that Carell injects into the title-character almost single-handedly makes the dreadfully bland writing and direction forgivable. But Carell, alongside his ensemble of gifted counterparts, couldíve made any film as inoffensively plain as Dan in Real Life tolerable. Just because the picture proves occasionally entertaining due to the presence of good acting doesnít mean that it offers viewers anything valuable to take home with them as they leave the theatre. There simply isnít much to be gained from Dan in Real Lifeís simple takes on love and family and, as a result, the efforts of the cast seem to have been exploited because of the fact that they belong to a product of such stunning insignificance.

      It would seem a fruitless endeavor to waste my time describing Dan in Real Lifeís uninspired plot, but in order to discourage those still inclined to see it after getting to this point in my review, it seems necessary to indulge in its painful ordinariness as a precaution. Carellís Dan Burns is a widower fathering three daughters by himself. Dan writes a newspaper advice column for a living, but still canít seem to connect with his own children. That the four are headed off to an annual family reunion in small-town Rhode Island makes this problem all the more distressing for Dan; he will have to not only face his girlsí scrutiny during the course of the trip, but also that of his relatives. As expected, something profound happens to him in Rhode Island: when one morning running out to buy a newspaper in town, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), the first woman he has felt a genuine connection with since the death of his wife. Unfortunately for Dan, a major obstacle arises when he discovers that Marie is actually dating his playboy of a younger brother, Mitch (Dane Cook). In fighting to find a way to capture Marieís forbidden heart, Dan comes to realize how to do the same with those of his daughters.

     The movie so obviously moves from Point A to Point B to Point C that it can barely sustain itself for its petite 95-minute running length. That products this unoriginal are still being made in Hollywood always strikes me as somewhat depressing. Still, though, Dan in Real Life manages to at least find redemption in its delightful performances and, as sterile as it may seem in retrospect, it remains bearable as it unfolds because of them. But who wants to see a movie that is just ďbearableĒ? Not me.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 10.26.2007

Screened on: 10.20.2007 at the Krikorian Vista Metroplex 15 in Vista, CA.


Dan in Real Life is rated PG-13 and runs 98 minutes.

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