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Dan in Real Life (2007)

Actor Steve Carrell isn’t someone in the movie biz whose work I’ve loved. (Well, with exception to his voicing of Gru in the hilarious Despicable Me films.) Still when watching the trailer for this comedy, I decided that when the DVD release came, it deserved a look. What I came away with was a bit of disappointment and some genuinely tender moments in cinema.  

Something is happening to Dan. It’s confusing. It’s awkward. It’s family. A relationship columnist, Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a widower with one big problem -- he is raising three daughters, two being teenagers complete with normal teen emotions and the big problem for dad is the boyfriends. Dan’s day starts out badly when he slams the door on middle daughter Cara’s boyfriend and only gets worse when on the way to his parents annual family reunion he won’t let oldest daughter Jane (Allison Pill) drive.

Surviving the trip, upon his arrival at his family’s lakeside home, Dan ends up meeting newcomer Marie (Juliette Binoche). After a lengthy conversation in which Dan actually feels something since his wife’s death, Dan thinks now maybe he has met someone with whom he can develop a friendship. Little does Dan know what surprise is awaiting him.   

Let the pros and cons commence, and there are plenty of the latter with this comedy. But then all movies seem to have something about them that one may not agree with. The main problem with this story is the fact that the audience very quickly picks up on the many flaws of Dan (and I’m not saying this under any kind of guise that anyone is perfect) and because of foolish choices – which were within the scope of his control and should have been handled differently, we can’t help but dislike him at times. Both Dan and Marie were silly and immature to act as they ultimately did and yet one doesn’t feel too sorry for the “injured” party when we see what he does shortly thereafter. Not only was it wrong for the adults involved but in the end Dan should have been practicing what he was constantly preaching to his daughter Cara (played by Brittany Robertson).  

Carell is known for being a comedic actor, however most of his work from my understanding, and while Dan in Real Life is probably one of this “tamer” projects, there were certain aspects that were meant to be comic, only to miserably fail. Basically during the heart of the film, Dan acts akin to a fifteen year old rather than the adult who’s raising three daughters – the intention for this was for laughs but didn’t hold up any longer after the second or third time he makes a complete fool of himself. All three girls have terrible attitudes towards their father, while youngest Lilly (played by Marlene Lawston) still loves her father in the beginning even she becomes disillusioned after he fails her.

Now for the good things about this one! Dan and daughter Lilly share some genuinely special moments, and the meet-cute between Dan and Marie is sweet – and fun (ah, book lovers!), and the bowling scene between Dan and Marie is also touching (despite the silliness leading into it). The story is really what is best about this movie – the promise was there, it’s just a bit rougher around the edges; the family was “real” and was portrayed superbly as such, even if some of the acting fails (fans of Emily Blunt, you may like to know that she also has a cameo appearance). All three young actresses who played Dan’s daughters were excellent and Carell did well enough (again, not a fan).

After thinking about this one in preparation of reviewing it, I can honestly say, it is enjoyable. Despite the flaws, some of the comedy is comic gold and it has a lovely ending in which Dan is able to mend everything nicely especially with his daughters and the more I think on it, the more I find the ending perfect. If you’re just looking for something "fun" and you’re able to overlook its mishaps, Dan in Real Like is worth a rental fee. 
(Content: there is some innuendo [there’s a question raised about how long it’s been since a character was with someone, and in order to embarrass her father, there is some conversation with a daughter about becoming "lovers"], there are instances of inappropriate clothing. There’s a scene – for laughs – involving an adult couple in the shower together [some brief back and side nudity]. Language is minimal - uses of h*ll, and some misuse of God's name. The film is rated PG13.)
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  1. Great review! I've heard some good things about this movie, so I added it to my Netflix queue several months ago. I just haven't gotten around to watching it yet! :)

    1. I need to rewatch it, Kristin. I had this review sitting in my USB "archive" files and after some editing, I put it up. But as I remember, I did enjoy it. There were some laughs and of course, some sweet father-daughter moments. :)


  2. I love this movie. I understand what you are saying about the flaws in the characters, but that's what I love about it. This isn't a story with a perfect hero who swoops in and saves everything; this is a story about "real life," with all of its imperfections, awkwardness, and hilarity.

    1. I have a feeling that if I were to watch it again, Jennifer, I'd come away liking it more than I did the first time through - especially now that I know how things play out. I don't mind flawed characters - in the least, they're "perfect" - but something about these characters just didn't make a lasting impression. But, as you say, the hilarity is fun and despite it all, it was a cute flick. :)

  3. I watched this movie a few years ago. I don't remember much about it but I remember that I liked the romance between Dan and Marie and I liked how the extended family stay at the lake house. I also didn't like teenage daughters especially the one that insisted her boyfriend stay with them and for yelling that Dad about being a "love murderer".

    1. I would agree, Carlyn. As I remember, some of the teenager shenanigans were a bit... "out there." That being said, there were good things about the film and if nothing else, I did enjoy the humor and the idea of the film. All this chat makes me want to rent it again. :)

  4. I’m grateful to find a review where someone isn’t swooning over this film. I was advised to watch it by some close friends, and had to hide that I didn’t care for it.

    Now, it's not because I didn’t like Dan, and want him to end up with Marie. I found most of his quirkiness kind of cute, and the fact he is the “overlooked brother” a reason to root for him (indeed, that’s the reason the film is probably successful). My emotions wanted him to make it with Marie, but my reasoning simply could not. Because, to me, love is a choice. If Marie was already taken, then that’s where it stops for me. Of course it’s easy to dismiss that she is taken because the film makes the previous pairing look “off” with his brother – they just don’t match. But in real life, when someone is in a relationship with another person, to me, that is serious business. What’s to stop either of them from having a wandering eye in the future when they tire of each other?

    1. Yeah, I definitely did not swoon over this one, Camille, though it was a fun little movie to rent and with all this conversation, I wouldn't mind renting it again. :)

      You have excellent points about the relationship "triangle." And in some sense I agree. There's that thought that we cannot "help" who we love (I don't buy it) and most the time in films, that is what the writer's will use as a kind of "romantic" gesture. I guess I'm so used to stories that switch out a fiancé for someone else that I barely blink an eye anymore when they use it as a plot. I don't believe in it most the time, but it is often out there. know I say that ALL THE TIME about stories that put together two people who "cheated" to be together. What IS to stop them from wandering in the future? The woman often thinks it's because "she's the one" (or vice versa) and he'll never stray again. Yeah, sorry, that's usually not the case. Sad, but true.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Always enjoy reading them. :)

    2. I did enjoy how quirky he was, very endearing (at least at the beginning). :) I think I saw a preview for a film Juliette Binoche is going to be in that looked cute recently, about an Artist and a teacher?? I don't recall, but it looked like it might be fun. She is a cute little gal (although every time I see her in a film it seems like her compass always slightly off my personal values). Maybe it'll be good. Steve Carrell, on the other hand . . I wish he made more innocent stuff, because people like him (and Tina Fey) are so funny by themselves, it's a shame it gets overshadowed by dirty humor as the rule.

    3. I don't recall seeing a film with Juliette that sounds as you describe. *goes to look it up* Sounds like Words and Pictures with Clive Owen...? It does sound cute, Camille and I really liked Juliette with Johnny Depp in Chocolat too. :)

      I just realized that I saw Steve in Crazy, Stupid, Love (again, that one had its moments but... ugh, so much inappropriate cluttered the script) and also Get Smart which I did like though, as usual, there was crude humor. *sigh* Guess, we either take the bad with the good or give up Hollywood. I deal with the former. ;)

  5. Yes, that was it! I know, I know, you could just scrap the whole Hollywood lot, but I try to find some hidden gems when I can ;)

    1. Cool. Now I'll have to keep my eye out for that one too. :)

      I agree! There is good hidden among the Hollywood films, we just have to look a little harder. Which then makes them all the better when we find them. :)


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