Wednesday, 26 September 2007
DAN IN REAL LIFE
Dan in Real Life (2007) dir. Peter Hedges
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook
Here’s an advanced review (Warning: some spoilers) of “Dan in Real Life” - a saccharine romantic comedy from Disney/Touchstone starring Steve Carell as a single-dad widower who falls madly in love with a woman after a chance encounter but then realizes she’s his brother's new girlfriend. It’s a sitcom premise extended to a feature film, but instead of utilizing the great talents of Carell, it's crippled by a fundamental syrupy family values wholesomeness.
Steve Carell plays Dan Burns a widower and now single dad to 3 young girls. He writes a parental advice column in the local newspaper and so has ample time to play Mr. Mom to his kids. He and the kids trek up north to their parent’s cottage for their annual Thanksgiving weekend of family fun. It’s been four years since his wife died and he still hasn’t found new love. One day he meets a gorgeous and worldly intelligent woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche). They spend the afternoon hitting it off, but before they leave she tells him she is seeing someone. She still feels the spark though and gives him her number. That same day, before he gets to call her, Dan is introduced to his brother Mitch’s new girlfriend – low and behold, it’s Marie.
For the rest of the weekend Marie and Dan awkwardly try to discuss and digest their situation without setting off alarm bells around the family. The duo encounters some of the usual comic situations arising from the deception. But the longer Dan keeps the secret the more damage he’s doing to his family. Of course, the secret doesn’t last, resulting in a major rift in the family.
Steve Carell is unfortunately held back from digging his teeth into this role. He’s a retread of the quiet, unassuming and depressed characters he played in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “40 Year Old Virgin”. He is an honourable dad, who is too earnest and likeable. In fact this Disney wholesomeness permeates the entire film. The situations are like episodes of “7th Heaven” or “the Gilmore Girls” – not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, I just don’t need to see them turned into feature film comedies and using up the time of great comic talent.
It’s a B-grade version of “Stepmom” and a C-grade version of “The Family Stone”. Positive values reign over comedy and laughter. “The Family Stone” is a decent comparison because I recently watched and reviewed that film. “The Family Stone”, though flawed, was not afraid to push some buttons and get their characters dirtied up before redeeming them in the end. Dan Burns never gets dirty. His relationship with Marie never gets past get-to-know-you chitchat. And so when the family does find out about the deception, it doesn’t take much more than a tough apology for them to kiss and make up. The subplot with their kids and the need to get past the death of their mom is candy apple storytelling – very sappy and righteous. And is it just me or do you hate film flirtation too? Peter Hedges has to overlap their afternoon-long first conversation with a series of dissolves to compress time but he still doesn’t avoid the dull flirtatious dialogue.
Perhaps I'm not the audience for the film. But the film is so middle of the road, I don’t think anyone will be truly satisfied or even want to recommend the film to their friends. I certainly don’t. The film opens on Oct 26.