The romantic comedy genre appears to be in the process of being renovated. In recent years, it has traditionally been Matthew McConaughey strutting around with his shirt off or Ben Stiller sacrificing his loins in pursuit of the ladies making for a cute and fuzzy 90 minute crapfest. In Dan In Real Life, a switch is flipped as a unique blend of comedy and broken hearts takes flight, where cute is not translated. The story is well-balanced consisting of just the right portions of drama and comedy. It’s hilarious and at times truly emotionally complex, examining inner struggles in the open.
Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is an advice columnist for a New Jersey newspaper. Still distraught after losing his wife four years ago, he’s dedicated his life fully to his three daughters. After being acknowledged as a possible syndicate, the family embarks to Rhode Island for the annual Burns family reunion. Love strikes Dan unsuspectingly in a bookstore when he met Marie (Juliette Binoche). When he goes back to the Burns house overjoyed about meeting a fantastic gal, he then learns that his brother Mitch (Dane Cook) has found love, that being Marie. Thus the screwball juncture unfolds nestled with concept of falling in love.
It seems Steve Carell can do more than just comedy in his own corky reserved way. Carell demonstrates his acting talents on screen with sincere dedication to the role. He honestly looks like a single dad. Carell displays much poise as a heart broken father just trying deal with the difficult task of raising three daughters alone. After learning that Mitch is dating Marie, the girl of his dreams, Dan has to hide the fact he has just been dealt such a heavy blow. Seeing him hide this, coupled with the comedy that ensues creates a unique and unsuspectingly good movie.
Dan must balance the delicate situation of the cloaked love triangle he is in with the constant problems from his daughters. The eldest, Jane, pleads with Dan to let her drive and the middle child, Cara, insisting she has found true love at age 14. Ironically, Dan collects numerous driving related tickets and falls in love just as soon as Cara’s claims. These scowling teens are melodramatic, but it’s appropriate because what they argue over is absurd and ridiculous adding to the hilarity.
The humor found in Dan In Real Life parallels The 40 Year-Old Virgin. It relies on just the inherently simple dialogue voiced by the characters. It’s subtle and off beat, which is refreshing to see. Nobody’s stretching for outrageous antics to get cheap laughs. The laughs come barreling out very casually. On that note, this movie seemed to be a continuation of The 40 Year-Old Virgin as Steve Carell’s character seems to display some of the same awkward tendencies as he did there except showing more maturity. Staying with this assumption of mine, the bridge would be that his wife suddenly died, not before popping out three kids.
At first I thought some of the casting for this was not appropriate. But given the small on screen time all of them share, it grows on you. The family meshes well together in their appearances thus comforting Dan’s headache of problems. Although Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche appear sweet together, I have to question Binoche in this role. In a way, she seems slightly out of place with her accent and just not believable that she would settle for Mitch, after his sleazy track record with women is unveiled. It seems like a bit of a stretch to put her on this pedestal and praise her as the woman of these brothers’ dreams. I’m not even sure it’s Dane Cook bring her down in this, as he actually stays within his element here, refraining from his stand up comic tendencies, thus providing an acceptable performance for the role.
Another element that bothered me was the persistent mention of Dan’s inability to overcome his wife’s death four years prior. I thought this was inconsistent because for the most part he seemed perfectly fine before stumbling upon Marie. The only sighs of distress that came from him, was the constant bickering of his daughters weighing their problems on him. There’s no mention of sadness until the end where in his search for reconciliation he tells his daughters how much he misses their mother. It’s comforting to see that a tired plot can be regenerated by the spark of creativity and really be a fun movie to watch.