“Life…is full of disappointments.”
Rated PG-13. Released on DVD March 11th. Directed by Peter Hedges. Starring Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Amy Ryan and Emily Blunt.
I really dislike romantic comedies, moreso than any other mainstream genre (well, except maybe musicals), and those movies that I’ve liked that might fall under the category (High Fidelity…and, well, High Fidelity) generally aren’t though of as rom-coms, because…well, they’re actually good movies. Usually they’re contrived, unrealistic, predictable and usually pointless, pretty much functioning as cinematic Prozac for women. I’ll try to stay away from the “men are like *this*, but women are like *this*” shtick and leave that to hacky comedians, but let’s just say that if I’m going to watch a contrived, silly, stupid movie, it better be because shit is getting blown up. Or if Jet Li or Bruce Lee is kicking someone’s ass.
I caught Dan in Real Life on a plane ride last week, and while I wouldn’t have paid the $5 for headphones or whatever most airlines charge, the particular airline I flew had free headphones, and in that situation, I suppose it was worth watching (how’s that for a recommendation?). As you can tell from the title, the film at least has higher aspirations than the usual rom-com, which makes it somewhat watchable. However, despite some promise towards the beginning the film doesn’t end up imitating “real life” in any way, falling prey to the many conventions of the genre.
The title comes from the advice column that title character/parenting expert Dan Burns (Steve Carell) writes for a living, but in an IRONIC twist, Carell is having a lot of parental problems with his three daughters ever since his wife died. Isn’t that a funny, original premise? The advice columnist needs help with his own life? Anyway, Carell and his family meet up at their lake house for a family weekend in a small town in the Northeast (Rhode Island?) when he meets the charming Marie (Juliette Binoche) without realizing that she’s his younger brother’s (Dane Cook) new girlfriend. Hilarity ensues, life lessons are learned, and a month’s worth of events take place in two days.
There are some honest moments in the film, and Carell is responsible for almost all of them. If there was any doubt after his excellent performance in Little Miss Sunshine about his acting ability, this film can put it to rest. There are a couple of moments where his inner Michael Scott shines through, but for the most part he makes Dan his own character and you really feel for him. Without Carell’s performance, the film would lose any of the charm it has. He and Binoche don’t have great chemistry, but it’s passable and better than hers with Cook, which is really all that matters. Cook is decent, a better actor than comedian for sure, and the filmmakers could have easily made him hateable (he is Dane Cook), but they don’t take the easy way out there. There are a lot of other recognizable actors, but none of them stand out.
If you have to watch a romantic comedy, if say, your girlfriend bothers you to watch a rom-com every time you go to the video store (I’m not naming names), you could do worse than renting Dan in Real Life. But beyond that, there’s not much reason to see it.