Dan in Real Life (2007)
A widowed advice columnist with three daughters spends an extended weekend at his family reunion and falls in love. The trouble is he falls for his younger brother’s new girlfriend. Sounds just like the plot of DUNE, right?
That’s the premise of this only slightly engaging Steve Carell movie. Hitting the ground running, there are some casting choices that just didn’t take. First, Dane Cook as the younger bro. Now, I’m not one of those Dane Cook haters - I LIKE Cook’s stand up act, but he looks like he’s trying way too hard here and just wants to bust out and do his thing. And I didn’t buy Juliette Binoche as Cook’s girlfriend/Carell’s object of affection for one minute. She’s the new element in this sprawling and very tight family and everyone falls for her, but only because the script was written that way. Nothing she did onscreen warranted that inclusion. She didn’t have any real chemistry with Cook (they were like “caviar and motor oil” according to Boston Globe critic Ty Burr) or more importantly with Carell.
To illustrate this point here is how they meet in the movie: Carell goes to a local bookstore one rainy morning for some newspapers and Binoche, mistaking him for a store employee, asks him for advice on a book. They get to chatting, then having breakfast, and before you know it he’s bared his heart to her. Aside from their initial meeting, where he just pulls random books off the shelves for her, the rest of their meet cute is a series of montages, mostly them LAUGHING about some incident or other. Showing people laughing, but not knowing or experiencing what they are laughing about is a rather easy way out to show people who are supposed to be connecting on some level. But I didn’t buy it. (Steve Carell had real chemistry in The 40 Year old Virgin with Catherine Keener and even with Elizabeth Banks and her off-kilter kinky bookstore clerk. Hell, he had better chemistry with Virgin's Paul Rudd than with Juliette Binoche in this movie.)
Another thing that irritated me is Carell’s choice of job for the film. He’s a newspaper advice columnist, one so good he’s on the verge of being nationally syndicated as the story begins. Here’s someone who knows how to fix OTHER people’s lives but not his own. You would think that would somehow play into the movie but it really doesn’t. We never SEE him doing this. His family and friends should have been coming up to him and he should have been dispensing the most helpful and insightful advice on their family woes, but then he’s never able to look at his own life and get it to work smoother. The movie just talks around these things. (There was one scene where another brother asks him for advice with his picky eater of a son, but Carell just shoves peas up his nose, which was neither a solution nor was it funny.)
The filmmakers seemed to go out of their way to make a “gentle” family comedy that they didn’t make a very engaging or memorable one. The bloopers for the movie were funnier than the actual movie. Those insipid "Hallmark Hall of Fame" TV movies have more of an edge than Dan in Real Life.
But we can be grateful that Steve Carell and Dane Cook didn't strip down to little rubber Speedoes like Sting wore in DUNE to hash this all out.