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"DAN IN REAL LIFE"
(2007) (Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A widowed advice columnist thinks that perhaps he's found true love, only to discover that the woman of his dreams is already dating his brother.
PLOT:
Dan Burns (STEVE CARELL) is a popular family advice columnist in the local paper, but his personal life is less than perfect. A widower for four years, he's yet to get back into the dating scene, but his hands are full with his three daughters. While the youngest, Lily (MARLENE LAWSTON), doesn't test his patience, his oldest, Jane (ALISON PILL), is frustrated that he won't let her drive, while middle daughter, Cara (BRITTANY ROBERTSON), is upset that her dad won't let her date the boy of her dreams.

Accordingly, there isn't much family love as they head off to the Rhode Island home of Dan's parents, Nana (DIANE WIEST) and Poppy (JOHN MAHONEY), where the rest of the extended family has also gathered. Everyone is concerned about Dan's social life, so they're excited when he tells them about a woman he just met at the local bookstore while out for the afternoon. While she's just started a new relationship, he thinks he's experienced love at first sight. Before he can say anything else about her, however, he finds out much to his shock that Marie (JULIETTE BINOCHE) is dating his brother, Mitch (DANE COOK).

She's just as shocked as Dan and the two try to keep their meeting and feelings toward each other secret. Yet, as Dan grows increasingly frustrated by having her so close and yet so far away, and as Marie becomes jealous when Dan is set up on a blind date with Ruthie (EMILY BLUNT), a former neighbor turned plastic surgeon, the two must decide what to do about their unique predicament.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, so I can't attest to the accuracy of the old saying about physicians being the worst patients. However, it does get you wondering about whether other professionals practice what they preach. Do plumbers have backed up sinks? Is it possible that financial advisors haven't planned for their own retirement? And do advice columnists, who are quick to tell others the right and/or best way to live, happy in their lives?

If one looks at the title character in "Dan in Real Life," the answer would be a resounding no. After all, Dan Burns might have a successful column in the local paper, and there are rumors that it might be nationally syndicated. Yet, he hasn't gotten back into the dating scene more than four years after his wife's death, and while he might have the right intentions, he's certainly not the best dad to his three girls, especially in the eyes of the two oldest.

To complicate matters, he and the kids are now visiting his parents and extended family, many of whom are concerned about his well-being and thus try to intervene. Then there's the fact that he has just met a new woman who, despite them only knowing each other for the afternoon, seems perfect to him. Except for one little thing -- she has a boyfriend, and lo and behold, that turns out to be Dan's own brother.

The resultant pic -- named after the newspaper column title -- is one of those efforts that will likely play well to critics and moviegoers who like broadly conceived and played dramedies. Yet, it may just encounter resistance from more discerning members of one or both groups.

I found myself somewhere in the middle. I've always liked Steve Carell and the humanistic element he can bring to his characters, no matter the material surrounding them (especially something like "The 40 Year Old Virgin"). The same holds true here with the character that's somewhat akin to the one he played in "Little Miss Sunshine" in that the performance is more subdued than exaggerated. While those expecting big belly laughs from him (or the movie, for that matter) will likely be disappointed, he does bring enough pleasant nuances to the character that you can't help but like him and root for him to succeed.

That's despite the filmmakers -- writer/director Peter Hedges and co-writer Pierce Gardner -- trying their darndest to arrange the material like a generic sitcom meets full-length film. And once you see the morning exercise montage (replacing the usual group dancing one), the family football game, the family talent show, and the various one-note family members offering their advice and/or jokes, you'll know exactly what I mean.

The film's message is "plan to be surprised" -- referring to what life can unexpectedly throw one's way, and implying that one should roll with the punches -- but one of its bigger faults is that it offers no such surprises. I know, there's comfort in familiarity for some viewers (which is where the sitcom feel comes into play), but critics usually want something different, and if that's not possible, we at least want some new wrinkle or spin put onto the familiar material.

Unfortunately, that's not the case, but there are equally troubling issues in terms of the storytelling. For starters, I think the filmmakers let the proverbial cat out of the bag too soon in revealing that Dan's new obsession (Juliet Binoche) is dating his brother (a thankfully restrained although still a bit irritating Dane Cook).

And that's because once that's revealed, the filmmakers struggle to keep the comedic, dramatic, or combined repercussion thereof flowing for the rest of the movie. Sure, the characters try to keep their "past" (all several hours of it) secret from the brother and the rest of the family, all resulting in Dan's increasing frustration. But a little of that goes a long way and it quickly becomes repetitive.

My bigger issue is that I just didn't see the instant attraction between Carell and Binoche's characters, smell the raging pheromones wafting between them, or buy into the love at first sight connection, all of which would supposedly make them so determined to be with one another. Had their "past" actually involved weeks or months, that might have made a difference (even if her dating both guys might have made her less sympathetic -- although an Internet only "romance" could have remedied that). As it stands, I just didn't "feel the love tonight."

In fact, when Dan's character is forced to go out on a double date with his brother, would-be lover, and a plastic surgeon played by Emily Blunt, I felt the film suddenly picking up energy and romantic steam, mainly because Blunt's character was available and more fun than Binoche's. Alas, the filmmakers don't allow that romance to foster, and instead stubbornly stick with the less believable, engaging, or entertaining one.

If not for Carell's performance and Blunt's brief injection of vitality into the proceedings, I'd probably write off this offering and give it an unfavorable review. That said, it's still nothing special and certainly far from novel. My advice? Don't plan on being surprised, and don't worry if you have to wait until this offering arrives on video or TV before you see it. "Dan in Real Life" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 20, 2007 / Posted October 26, 2007


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