Back Shelf Beauties
by Willie Waffle

Dan in Real Life 

You love him in The Office (Thursdays at 9 PM on NBC, please watch!).  You love him in The 40-Year Old Virgin.  You thought he was OK in Evan Almighty.  But even Derek Jeter strikes out once in a while, so Steve Carell was bound to have a stinker eventually, and Dan In Real Life is it.  However, you can't blame him.    

Carell stars as Dan – a mild mannered widower dutifully taking care of his three daughters and writing an advice column for the local newspaper.  However, Dan’s life is starting to reach a crossroads.  During the family’s annual get together, Dan meets a beautiful and mysterious woman, Marie (Juliette Binoche), in a local bookstore.  Sparks fly and they plan to get together again.  However, they end up seeing each other at the family cabin when it turns out Marie is the new girlfriend of Dan’s brother, Mitch (Dane Cook). 

Can Marie and Dan end it out of consideration for Mitch, or is it destiny and someone is on their way to getting hurt and heartbroken?

Dan In Real Life is bland.  For all of its attempts to be kind of quirky and have more of an indie film feel (complete with off beat soundtrack and a mildly taboo conflict), co-writer/director Peter Hedges and co-writer Pierce Gardener have difficulty capturing the audience’s heart and soul.  The comedy is mostly slapstick and predictable, more on the level of Three’s Company than The Office (not classic Three’s Company with Suzanne Somers and The Ropers, but more like not so classic Three’s Company with Cindy and Mr. Furley).  Then, the drama and emotional parts of the movie are just dropped in without much explanation because Hedges feels the formula calls for us to cry a little bit. 

Worst of all, it feels like Dan In Real Life has been put together on the fly with questionable to non-existent character motivations for their behavior.  Dan and Marie battle because Hedges and Gardner feel it is time, or look all googly-eyed at each other because it is time, not because it is based on the action or dialogue that came before it or after it.                

Carell does everything he can to win over the audience, and has an amazing amount of charisma as well as a bank of audience goodwill to draw on, but he can’t do enough to overcome the weak story (and should save some of that goodwill for a rainy day, or draw on it for a better project).  He gamely dances silly, acts like a guy losing control and shows us the sadness underneath his smiling exterior, but the script doesn’t help build him up, give us enough about Dan’s history or his relationship with the rest of his family beyond the obvious.

If you met Dan In Real Life, you would probably keep moving along as if you never saw him.  You might want to have the same approach with this movie. 

1 Waffle (Out of 4)

Dan In Real Life is rated PG-13 for some innuendo

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