Just as Little Miss Sunshine brought me a new appreciation of Steve Carrel, Dan in Real Life assures that appreciation. Dan is a great balance of laugh-out-loud hilarity as well as tissue-grabbing honesty, and Carell handles both incredibly well.
Carell stars as Dan Burns, a widower and father to three girls. Jane (Alison Pill), the oldest, is subdued and desperately ready to drive. Cara (Brittany Robertson) is overly dramatic and a bit too involved in the boy she’s know for three weeks. Lilly (Marlene Lawston) is the youngest, the cutest, and possibly the smartest of the three. Dan’s wife has been gone for four years, and his entire family is ready for him to move on. During a traditional weekend spent with the entire family as his parent’s vacation home, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), possibly the woman of his dreams, at a bookstore in town.
Anyone who's seen the preview knows that Marie turns out to be dating Dan's brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Just as in most romantic comedies, it is glaringly obvious Mitch and Marie make a horrible match. Mitch is an exercise guru who loves fast cars and usually fast women. Marie is a world traveler who’s quiet and extremely intelligent. Oh, and they're played by Dane Cook and Juliette Binoche.
Dan and Marie obviously make the better couple, and they both think so as well. What makes this different from most romantic comedies is that the meant-to-be couple knows they are meant to be. They aren't hiding secrets from each other; they're hiding from the rest of the family. Not very well, by the way, because before the big moment at the end, it's pretty apparent the entire family knows how Dan feels. His mother (Diane Weist) even tells him to "stop acting like a 15 year old."
On paper, casting Juliette Binoche opposite Steve Carell seems absolutely insane, but on screen, these two have incredible chemistry. (Far better than Dane and Juliette, but that's the point.) One great example is during a great bowling scene. I like bowling, but Steve and Juliette made it look like the most romantic thing to do ever.
Even though I think the story is rather realistic. I have to say that Dan's family is a little too perfect and too happy. I know that if I spent a long weekend with my entire family in a small cabin, there is just no way we’d all get along as well as these people, but I do know that I would have a great time making fun of my brother about his new girlfriend or lack thereof. I also don’t believe I’ve ever found myself naked in a shower with a guy I’m crushing on, but the reactions that both Binoche and Carell have during the scene are so real, I completely accepted the impossibility of it all.
Binoche and Carell aren't the only cast members that make this movie work. The entire cast is great. Everyone from Diane Weist to John Mahoney as Mom and Dad to Dane Cook as brother Mitch. I’m one of those people who usually prefers Dane Cook, the really funny stand-up comedian to Dane Cook, the not-so-funny actor, but I have to hand it to him in this movie. Director Peter Hedges did a superb job of keeping Cook subdued and underplayed. Only twice did the real Dane Cook peek out, and both times were acceptable and never stole Carell’s thunder.
It’s very rare that a movie can make me laugh so hard I squirt soda out my nose while simultaneously making me sniffle and tear up. Dan in Real Life does just that. It starts out as a great, small, quiet movie that grows louder and funnier and sillier, but then brings you back down to earth. The ending is very predictable, some of the moments are a little too sweet, but overall, Dan in Real Life is not to be missed.