Sunday 17 January 2016

Movie Review: Dan In Real Life (2007)

A mild romantic comedy, Dan In Real Life has a cute premise but weak follow-through.

In New Jersey, Dan Burns (Steve Carell) writes a newspaper relationship advice column. A widower, he is overprotective and struggling to raise three daughters on his own as they go through puberty and puppy love issues. In a despondent mood, Dan drives with his daughters to Rhode Island for a long weekend family reunion at the beach front home of his parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest). Also in attendance are Dan's siblings and their families, including his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), a hunky bachelor and fitness trainer.

Dan meets the attractive Marie (Juliette Binoche) at the local bookstore, and they immediately sense an attraction. They chat over coffee and she snaps him out of his moodiness. They part on a promise to meet again although she does tell him that she is just starting a new relationship. Back at the beach house, Dan is shocked to re-encounter Marie, who has arrived at the family reunion as Mitch's new girlfriend. They keep their bookstore encounter a secret. As the weekend progresses Mitch and Marie fawn all over each other as the rest of the family falls in love with the vivacious, worldly and clever Marie, while Dan is pushed to extremes of jealousy and childish behaviour.

Directed by Peter Hedges, Dan In Real Life has a single idea to work with, and doesn't do much with it. The film hinges on Dan and Marie first deeply connecting with each other after a single encounter, and then keeping their sudden attachment a secret from the sprawling family. This is all established within the first 30 minutes, and for the next hour Hedges (who also co-wrote the script) wanders around the beach house looking for opportunities for Dan to act childish.

This not only gets tiresome quickly, but also undermines the film's premise. Dan's pouty behaviour is only rarely funny and generally makes him exceptionally unattractive, and a smart woman like Marie should have recognized his emotionally immaturity and cast him adrift instead of stringing him along. But then Marie's purported intelligence is already undermined by her attachment to the hunky but relatively dull Mitch, further eroding the movie's rationality.

The film attempts to win cheap sentimental points late on by throwing in sappy moments related to Dan's deceased wife and his relationship with his girls, but by then the infatuation triangle between Dan, Marie and Mitch has unravelled beyond salvation.

A talented cast is merely adequate. Carell does show an aptitude for the more subdued side of the comedy spectrum, but too often sleepwalks through the film with a single passive aggressive stance of simmering jealousy. Binoche is perky but borderline annoying. The rest of the family members are almost interchangeable and lack definition. Emily Blunt shows up in a couple of scenes as a bubbly childhood friend of Dan's, and a potential pawn in the spite battles. Amy Ryan has a minor role as Dan's sister-in-law.

Dan In Real Life arrives at the vacation house with good intentions to have a fun time, but is caught at the beach all wet and without a towel.

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