A man sets out on a family trip only to find himself falling in love with his brother’s girlfriend. No, this is not another “Romeo and Juliet.” directed by Peter Hedges, “Dan In Real Life” is a comedic depiction of a man’s struggle between love and familial integrity while trying to balance his responsibilities as a father to his very independent daughters.
Dan Burns (Steve Carell, “The Office”) is a columnist, widower and father of three daughters. He meets a woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche) one day in a bookstore and immediately falls in love with her. Later, when he takes his daughters on a vacation to his parents’ house, he meets up with Marie, only to find out that she had already been dating his brother Mitch (Dane Cook).
A series of blunders by Dan in an attempt to get Marie’s attention eventually turns him into an outcast from his brother, his daughters and much of his remaining family. Dan, while seeking reconciliation with his family, learns a valuable lesson of the importance of staying true to himself and valuing the opinions of others.
Overall, the film is rather predictable and slow-moving, and if not for the subtle inserts of comedy, audiences may quickly find this movie to be another rendition of a dull romance.
As a film that tries to blend humor with drama, there are few instances in the film for where the actors can truly shine. Binoche plays the role of a quiet and emotionless character that two men fight over, and Cook disappoints by playing the role of a rather pathetic and indecisive brother who completely pacifies the rivalry between Mitch and Dan, and puts little emotion into his punch to Dan’s face near the end of the film.
Carell is perhaps the only one who contributes any substance to the film and makes it at least somewhat worth watching. As an “Office” veteran, he is able to give audiences occasional laughs to compensate for the otherwise dull plot. He is seen being drenched by a showerhead while fully dressed and falling off a roof while his mother is humming and cutting vegetables in the kitchen.
Fast-paced and abrupt repetition is also used frequently to contribute to the humor of the film. After a busy day at his parents’ house, Dan finds himself abruptly back in his “room” with the lights turned off and the washing machines roaring in the background. Dan is pulled over twice by the same police officer, and near the end of the film crashes into a police car out of anger, after which his license is destroyed.
For those who are used to crying at the end of romance films, “Dan In Real Life” will sorely disappoint. The ending for this movie is nothing than a pitiful attempt at mixing comedy with romance. Dan’s “apology” to his daughters, whom he had neglected for the past few days, instead turns into a confession of how much he loves Marie and the entire sequence ends without even a simple “I’m sorry.”
“Dan In Real Life” is a nice departure from the popular “Transformers” or “Saw IV,” as it contains little action or suspense. It is entertaining at times but holistically has little substance. Hedges attempts to mix comedy with romance, and destroys the core aspects of the latter. However, this movie deserves some credit for its improvisations on the average romance film, delivering a somewhat entertaining and definitely unexpected 1 hour and 30 minutes.