Film review: Dan in Real Life

2008-04-28 00:00

STEVE Carell is probably typecast in most people’s minds as the comedy type who fits between the cringe and the crazy. Renowned for his chest waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and a memorable scene in Bruce Almighty as the news reader controlled by Jim Carrey’s crazy-mouth mumblings, it would probably be safe to slot Carell in a category that incorporates Carrey, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Although Little Miss Sunshine revealed a polar-opposite side of Carrell’s ability compared to his work in the TV sitcom The Office, Evan Almighty inevitably did more harm than good.

Fortunately for Carell, he tips the scales back in his favour with Dan in Real Life, thanks to unlikely chemistry with Juliette Binoche. Increasingly, audiences are expecting the unexpected from Carell.

Dan Burns (Carell) is a popular columnist who writes about maintaining good family relations. Not surprisingly, his own life isn’t exactly as squeaky clean as the advice he dishes out. A widowed father with three daughters, Dan is portrayed empathetically as a lonely man struggling with the challenges of raising three girls.

Off they go on a vacation family get-together, where the cynical and shy Dan meets a bookworm beauty (Binoche) at a local bookstore. They hit it off. But Dan’s new-found hope bombs into awkwardness when he arrives back at the cabin to find that the mystery woman, Marie, is the new girlfriend of his athletic brother Mitch (Dane Cook). The getaway with family turns to torment for Dan as he falls in love with Marie.

Dan in Real Life isn’t as good as it could be, perhaps because Binoche is under-utilised. The crux of the whole exercise relies on the interactivity between her and Carrell, but he gets more screen time. No problem — he’s great, but the relationship between the two central characters isn’t fully realised. Coupled with this, the film starts off feeling slightly like an indie-drama, complete with a great acoustic/folk soundtrack, and ends off purely as a romcom, which is a bit strange.

But Dan In Real Life is completely watchable, with a warm feel and clean humour that deals articulately with family issues and the insanity and torment of love. ***

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