Talking Movies

January 13, 2020

From the Archives: Dan in Real Life

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Steve Carell partly redeems himself for Evan Almighty by returning to safer Little Miss Sunshine territory and playing his lead role of widowed newspaper advice columnist Dan Burns with a winning mix of sarcasm and sadness. Whether anyone will have the stomach for this film in January is another question as it is painfully accurate in its depiction of the nightmarish quality of a cold Christmas spent in too close proximity to one’s family where unasked for advice and old scores being settled drives everyone to solitary long walks. The extra awkwardness Dan suffers from meeting a woman in a bookstore (a cringe-worthy scene), talking to her for hours and then parting, only to find she’s his brother Mitch’s new girlfriend when he arrives back at the family home becomes quite tiresome and necessitates a jarring dive into slapstick comedy.

This film suffers all through from the great problem with the end of Annie Hall. When Woody Allen muses that he’s happy that he met Annie because she’s such a wonderful person you struggle to think of a single thing she did or said that was wonderful. Here we are simply told Juliette Binoche is smart, funny, etc. No evidence is offered. She has no sparkling lines, any insights her character offers seem mere pretentiousness. The biggest problem is her obnoxious and quite cruel selfishness. She wants to go out with Mitch but at the same time she enjoys and encourages Dan to moon around carrying a torch for her. When he decides to enjoy himself on a date with local girl Ruthie Draper her reaction is bitchy in the extreme. And okay, it’s like, official, I’m setting up the Irish Chapter of the Emily Blunt Fan Club here. She only appears for about 5 minutes as Ruthie Draper and she’s largely there as a plot device and as the wonderful pay-off for a gag. When she popped up an hour in it seemed possible that the film was finally about to move up a gear, but no such luck.

The fact that Mitch is played by Dane Cook of Good Luck Chuck infamy makes the choices of Binoche’s Anne-Marie all the more unsympathetic especially as she seems to deliberately and tauntingly cultivate a relationship with Dan’s three daughters who are all currently mad at their father for justifiable and hysterical reasons respectively. The best female performance comes from Alison Pill as Dan’s 17 year old daughter Jane who is tough and sensible and has to give dad a good-talking to more than once. It’s hard to see why America’s National Board of Review chose this as one of their top 10 films of 2007. Dan in Real Life is not fun or rewarding enough to measure up to writer/director Peter Hedges’ previous film Pieces of April.

3/5

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