October 29, 2007

Take Two: Dan In Real Life

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When you and I sit down to take in a movie, we generally don’t expect much. Movies come in many varieties, and we’ve all seen our share of those that rocked and those that well, didn’t rock. The best types will hold us bound to the screen and stop our hearts for stretches at a time. All too often, however, we’ll see one so terrible that all respect for the industry is lost. That said, most films fall into a third category; the “that was a good movie” category. These movies, although entertaining, are ultimately unspectacular, and while they keep us giggling for ninety minutes or two hours, we’ll forget them soon after. We’ll take what we can get though. As long as it’s not a klunker, we’ll generally walk away happy.
Dan in Real Life, which made its debut this weekend, falls comfortably into the third category. The movie ran at Cornell Cinema this past Thursday in front of a non-capacity crowd despite an enticing price of admission (Free).

The movie begins by introducing Dan, played by the ever-reliable Steve Carell, as the essential advice column writing, single, hopeless dad character. His three daughters are quite a lot to handle, especially Cara (Brit Robertson), a spunky tween whose wild ways drive her father a little bit crazy. As the plot develops (and I promise not to give away much) we learn that Dan lost his wife four years prior to an illness. Due to the devastation of the loss, his pursuit of a new love interest seems to be on hold for the time being. On hold, that is, until he meets a nice French woman at a used book store. Before you know it, Dan and his new friend his Marie (Juliette Binoche) end up romantically overlooking a river, while Dan pours his heart out to her.

Dan, despite his awfully unsmooth manner, seems to have done something right for once and captured her heart. It looks as if he’s taken heed to Nikki Nussbaum’s advice and displayed his “inner dork,” in order to pick up the random, middle aged, French woman of his dreams. The two look like a match made in heaven. One problem though, she’s dating his brother.

What ensues feels like a combination of Meet the Parents, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin and Wedding Crashers. The film does a fine job of weaving aspects of those films together to create a sometimes compelling story about love. The plot is a little bit jumpy as it pulls you in at times but then lags. It must be given some credit though; while most films similar to this end up throwing in an hour of excruciating pursuit and then finally, a somewhat fulfilling ending, this one keeps you on your toes with some great humor and unexpected moments. (Including a great quasi-Tae Bo workout). If you’re into realistic scenarios, this was not the movie for you. But, these days, most good movies about love involve wholly unrealistic scenarios that inspire. I wouldn’t say that Dan in Real Life inspires but is worth the ride if you’re looking for a good romantic comedy. The acting, although somewhat shaky at the start, pulls together with pleasant chemistry, playing well off of Carell’s extreme awkwardness, and I mean extreme. I had to contain myself from throwing out the awkward turtle, typewriter and beached whale throughout the whole movie. I held back, however, due to the public nature of the showing. In the end I did manage to slip in a shady palm tree when no one was looking.The audience took the jokes well and, at one point, the audience member sitting in front of me looked as if he was going to have a heart attack while laughing at a pretty mediocre joke. That in itself, however, made me laugh, so I guess it all worked out in the end. I also realized Cornell Cinema is a great place to meet and appreciate Ithacans, who, unlike most old folks, are pretty chill and enjoy quality cinema. That said, due to the fact that this is my first review and I’ve got a few words left, just wanted to say that if you’ve read all the way down to this point in the column I thank you and hope to bring you many more. Please review my review and send all comments to [email protected]. Cheers!