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Dan In Real LifeUSA 2007
Directed by Peter Hedges
Running time 98 minutes
There are a couple of interesting idea at the core of Dan In Real Life to do with the difference in perspectives between the generations and our failure to be in touch with our own emotions and values but they come in a relentlessly forced, sugar-coated package that mines cliché after cliché without the slightest hint of embarrassment.
Steve Carrell, playing his usual put-upon middle-of-the-road character, is a writer of a personal advice column (do such people exist anymore, let alone be pursued for syndication as here?) and the widowed father of three girls who goes back to the home of his parents (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) for the annual family get-together with his brothers and sisters. On a trip into town he meets a woman (Juliette Binoche) in a bookshop and they connect. Dan is excited but when he gets home he discovers that the woman is his brother’s new girlfriend. Awkwardness!!
That is a clever twist but Hedges does little with its comic or dramatic potential. Instead he serves up large slabs of laughter-filled communal family life – they play charades, have crossword competitions and even put on a talent show as if they were time travelling escapees from some Norman Rockwell universe, as Dan becomes an increasingly desperate victim of his thwarted libido. Why Juliette Binoche aka a French woman of a certain age is to found amidst this time warp, particularly as the brother (Dane Cook) is a jock, is never explained, nor for that matter is there any plausibility in her transferring her affections so wholeheartedly to Dan. Explanation is not Hedges strong suit – Emily Blunt turns up as sexy plastic surgeon in one of the film’s most ludicrous scenes and who the heck did that Asian kid belong to, one wonders.
Had this film been called Dan In Not Real Life it would have been closer to the mark. Reminiscent of commercial contrivances like Notting Hill, its few moments of accuracy do not compensate for its shamelessly formulaic nature.