Dan in Real Life

Dan in Real Life
Brittany Robertson

Brittany Robertson

Screen Time: 35%
Role: Cara Burns
Age: 16 years old
Marlene Lawston

Marlene Lawston

Screen Time: 25%
Role: Lilly Burns
Age: 8 years old


Dan in Real Life

Rating: 9 (3 votes)
Directed: Peter Hedges
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance


Advice columnist Dan Burns, father of three daughters, is an expert on relationships. But, as a single parent, somehow struggles to succeed as a brother, a son and a parent.

Movie Reviews

Intelligence, family life and young girl hormones

DAN IN REAL LIFE is suffused with a lovely sweetness. Not cloying, not sappy, but instead, unaffectedly joyful about what life has to offer, including the madness inherent in how very messy life tends to be.

Dan (Steve Carell) has been avoiding the joyful part of life. He’s spent four years as a widower, mourning his late wife, and raising three girls while burying himself in his work writing an advice column for parents for a New Jersey newspaper. It might have been good for the column, there is talk of him being syndicated, but by shutting himself off, he becomes, in the words of his youngest, precocious 4th-grader, Lily, a good father, but a bad dad. He does laundry, makes their lunch, including smiley faces drawn in honey on the peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches, and brings home the bacon, as it were, but he fails to let the girls grow up. He clings to them while they yearn to explore strange new worlds that include driver’s licenses, boyfriends, and being taken seriously as individuals. By shrinking his world to his kids and his work, he might be putting family first, but he’s also suffocating them all.

All that changes when he takes them for a family reunion at his parent’s beach house in Rhode Island. There is drama aplenty, as his middle daughter yearns for her first love, and sulks at being plucked away from him by Dan in full view of her peers. His oldest daughter is sulking about not being allowed to drive, even though she has a license. And Lily is miffed because Dan doesn’t give her credit for being able to turn a phrase. On a solo trip to buy newspapers, he meets the reason everything is going to change. Her name is Marie (Juliette Binoche), and when she mistakes him for a bookstore clerk, he doesn’t correct her. He’s bowled over by her looks, her laundry list of qualities that she’s looking for in a book, and by the way she dismisses her boyfriend as a new relationship that isn’t set in stone. He opens up to her in a way that he hasn’t since his wife died. As hopped up as he is on the prospect of romance, and the congratulations all around from his family of three brothers, a sister, and the assorted children, that’s how crestfallen, not to mention horrified, he is to discover that Marie’s boyfriend, the one not set in stone, is his brother Mitch (Dane Cook). And that this isn’t just a fling for Mitch, this is the real thing and that not only is he smitten with her, so is the entire family.

The film takes a radical step in presenting family life. It’s positive. The siblings, cousins, parents, and kids all like each other and get along. They’re nice, normal people with a few quirks, including offering Dan unsolicited, mostly embarrassing, advice on how to get back into the swing of things and doing so as an excruciatingly embarrassing group activity, like charades. It doesn’t matter, really, that aside from Mitch and Mom (Diane Wiest) and Dad (John Mahoney), the other family members aren’t finely drawn. It’s the group dynamic that’s in play here. They are the caring collective that sets up the tension played out with deft and understated élan by Carell and Binoche. The family that loves him so much is also completely oblivious to what is going on between Dan and Marie right under their collective noses. Mostly.

The fight against hormones rises with an arch twist as the two putative soul mates attempt to do the right thing by ignoring their feelings and keeping their mouths shut. The family assumes that Dan’s odd behavior is the result of too much alone time. But love will out, and while the rest of the family frets about Dan and falls in love with Marie, the pair endure the ups and downs of a romance heightened and accelerated by secrecy and guilt. Pancakes become dangerous metaphors, and group exercise an endurance test on several levels.

Carell is brilliant. He is not just funny, he’s also deeply affecting with a melancholy sort of forced cheeriness giving way to mortified hope. He can snap off a line of dialogue with the suppressed panic of someone desperately needing an escape hatch from situations that are getting increasingly out of control, and yet still tap into the tenderness necessary to make the scenes between father and daughter, son and mother, and brother and ticked-off brother work. He can also take a punch, a traffic ticket, and bust very bad moves on an impromptu dance floor without missing a beat.

DAN IN REAL LIFE has crisp dialogue, nice pacing, and superlative performances from its large cast. The romance is properly rocky, and the denouement, including Dan’s wry revelations about more than finding love again, done with a sparkling grace that while perfectly logical, still come as a delightful twist.