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Despite predictability, ‘Dan In Real Life’ succeeds

Nicole Eggenberger | Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Unlike most comedians who try to star in romantic comedies, Steve Carell succeeds in balancing his wild side with his sensitive side in the film “Dan in Real Life” – but barely.

Dan Burns (Carell), a family-advice columnist, ironically struggles to raise his three rebellious daughters after the loss of their mother. After arguing with each of his daughters, Dan drags them to his parents’ home on the Rhode Island shore for a family reunion. Unlike other movie clans in similar plots, the Burns family is not dysfunctional; surprisingly, it is filled with lots of love and affection.

Dan drives into town his first morning there to get a newspaper and meets the beautiful brunette Marie (Juliette Binoche), who gives him joy he thought he had lost. The tender Marie exhibits everything a woman would have to in order to be with a widowed man with three daughters. After talking for hours, Dan convinces her to give him his number, even though she has a boyfriend and then returns back to the reunion to tell everyone about the amazing women he met. Surprise, surprise: The boyfriend is his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), and she is staying with them for the weekend.

Dan loves his brother too much to interfere but suffers throughout the weekend to suppress his feelings for Marie. It’s a family reunion consumed by bonding activities such as talent shows, competitions and pancake breakfasts. In a series of sweet and funny events, the family works out its problems quite easily.

The movie’s plot and cast had the potential to be great as both a romance and a comedy, but the film was not pushed far enough in either direction. It isn’t terribly funny, nor terribly romantic. Many scenes seem to be cut short of any true drama or comedy that could have resulted. The talented cast members were not utilized and were treated more like extras than past Golden Globe nominees and Oscar winners. Dianne Wiest (Nana), John Mahoney (Poppy Burns) and Amy Ryan (Eileen) appear on screen as merely a tease. It was slightly unsatisfying to see the potential for a great movie that never materialized.

Carell’s humor portrayed cutesier than in his other movies, but it works out nicely. He has his wild moments, but they are tamed by his character’s serious role as a lovely father of three. Many of his comedic lines are the sarcastic one-liners he is known for, but in a less graphic manner than usual.

The almost show-stealer is Dan’s daughter, Cara Burns, played by Brittany Robertson. As a very hormonal young teenage girl, Brittany plays her role perfectly. She spends nearly every scene shrieking and crying to be with her boyfriend, Marty, whom she passionately loves within three days. She captures a boy-crazy girl perfectly when she screams one ridiculous statement at her father: “You are a murderer of love!” Meanwhile, she chases her boyfriend’s car as it pulls away.

The film follows the standards of all good romantic comedies but fails to bring anything new to the already crowded table.

Being that it is a Carell film, it could have been pushed further in its storyline to give more than just a shrug-of-the-shoulder experience. It has the typical, predictable romantic-comedy plot, but has the unpredictable cast that could have brought more to table than the pancakes they served.

Still, “Dan in Real Life” is a true feel-good movie. If it is viewed in that way and not as a classic Carell comedy, it won’t disappoint.