Dan in Real Life

Director: Peter Hedges

As hard as it is to find someone you’re compatible with, it’s even harder to secure that ideal romantic mate when the timing is off. While the old adage “all’s fair in love and war” is a great theory in principle, it’s sometimes one that genuinely caring individuals have trouble following. Simply put, some of us (and I’m certainly guilty of this) do not want to steal another’s boyfriend or girlfriend, no matter how much we may feel that they’re with the wrong person. However, for family advice columnist Dan Burns (Steve Carell), it goes even further than that—not only is the object of his affection dating someone else-- that someone else happens to be his brother Mitch. Feeling that he can’t tempt fate by trying to (as he phrases it) “win the lottery” twice, widowed Dan has basically given up on the idea of love after his wife passed away four years earlier. Instead, he spends his days as a tirelessly devoted father of three precocious daughters, spending more time than they’d like interfering in their personal and love lives until he is faced with his own after journeying with the girls to a family reunion weekend in Rhode Island. When Dan meets cute with beautiful Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore as he helps her choose a book that meets a highly selective yet rambling criteria, the two click instantly and spend the morning chatting until he manages to secure a phone number, only to find out when he happily arrives back at the family house that Marie was rushing off to meet boyfriend Mitch (Dane Cook). Not wanting to jeopardize his relationship with his younger brother whom he loves, Dan tries to keep his distance from the winning Marie who manages to impress every Burns in the overly crowded home and, tugging at his heartstrings even more, bonds with his three daughters. Although I was initially worried about the prospect of a romantic comedy that cast The Office’s admittedly annoying Carell and Employee of the Month’s Dane Cook opposite Academy Award winning English Patient star Juliette Binoche, she’s so natural and laid back in her role that she brings them to an equally realistic level, helping remind the comedians that less is often more instead of the medium’s usual tendency to utilize overly broad humor. A rare quality film that, unlike Meet the Parents or The Family Stone celebrates family in a way that goes against the cynical smart-aleck mentality of most of contemporary American cinema, Dan in Real Life proved to be a wonderful surprise that sneaked up and won me over as one of my favorite romantic films of 2007. In his Rolling Stone review Peter Travers wrote that “[It’s] the real thing in romantic comedy in that its characters manage to be romantic, hilarious and recognizably human at the same time.”Benefiting greatly from an Earthy, cool jazz influenced soundtrack by Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche that punctuates the film in a subtle and moody way, the real star of Dan in Real Life is the lovely, sophisticated and refreshing screenplay by Pierce Gardner and Peter Hedges. Hedges who completed the screenplays for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (based on his novel), About a Boy (based on Nick Hornby’s) and Pieces of April which marked his directorial debut, is a compassionate director whose affection for not only his characters but humanity in general shines through within every scene. To once again quote Travers, having Hedges involved “means you’re in for a unique blend of humor and heartbreak, with the bruising and healing powers of family right at the core.” All in all, Dan in Real Life is one film you won’t want to miss-- just be sure to bring a date and of course, make sure you’ve got the timing right.