Dan in Real Life, 2007, USA
Dan (Steve Carell) is a columnist who is a contender for national syndication. He’s a widower with three daughters, and has varying relationships with all three. He’s somewhat controlling, and convinced he will never find love again after the death of his wife a few years before. The family takes a trip to Rhode Island for a family reunion and Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a bookstore. He buys her a coffee and they find they have a connection. Unfortunately, Marie has a boyfriend. They agree to meet again before they leave town, and Dan heads back to his parents’ place…only to find Marie there with her boyfriend, Dan’s brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).
Carell gives a wonderful performance as Dan, a character that I found to be thoroughly unlikable. Over the course of the entire visit with his family, he behaves awfully towards his extended family, as well as his daughters. He’s hypocritical, and neglectful and, frankly, I don’t know what on Earth the lovely Marie saw in him. Carell does some fine work – truly. I don’t believe we’re supposed to particularly like Dan. Dan is a character that has all of the answers as an advice columnist, but his own life is in shambles, and he doesn’t practice what he preaches. That is the basic theme of the film. It’s so easy to give advice and to act like you have all of the answers, but when it comes time to follow your own advice, it is immensely difficult.
The film did falter on some levels, though. There is an emotional scene towards the end of the film that makes reference to Dan’s late wife. This was presumably meant to be the emotional climax of the film. But, we’re not given nearly enough information about his wife, nor are we given much reason to care about her absence, so this moment instead feels awkward and a bit out of place. More should have been done to build her as a character (despite her absence), or they should have figured out another way to build an emotional moment. Cook’s performance as Mitch wasn’t particularly strong, either. He should have been developed as a more sympathetic character, but he was just there, seemingly to act as an obstacle between Dan and Marie. So much more could have been done with his character in the hands of an actor who can actually act.
Dan in Real Life is available on Netflix.