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Reel-life Classic

  • Mar 17, 2008
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Fact may be stranger than fiction, but the best fictional narratives create scenes, characters and narratives that put us in the center of a place so true and clear that our heart aches for that time and place.

"Dan" does that for me. While the leads are bankable stars like Steve Carrell, Juliette Binoche, and Dane Cook, this is the kind of small classic that leaves space in the center for your heart and heartaches.

Dan, in real life, is a widowed advice columnist (think Dear Abby) attempting to raise three daughters on his own. We see their interaction briefly before and after a typical school day, but most of the action takes place in the extended family home where Dan and daughters go for the annual tradition on the New England coast with his parents, brothers, and their spouses and children.

It is here the movie comes alive as we see the family act, react, and interact with each other just like real families do--there is a kids table at meals, boy and girl bedrooms, parent rules that even the grown kids must follow (unmarried couples sleep in separate rooms), and traditions like a talent show, crossword puzzle challenge, and football game.

The director, actors, and screenwriters create a place we immediately recognize and want to go to. The dramatic action (Dan meets a "hottie" in the town bookstore who is the unintroduced romantic interest of his brother on her way to the gathering) is really secondary to the place, even though the dramatic tension is well done, funny, poignant, and plays true to the place.

I know that this may be the first and only review of Dan that will make this connection, but when I recently finished War and Peace (Penguin Classics, Deluxe Edition) about the time I first saw Dan, I was struck by the similarity in the two narrative's creation of family as a place that at its best provides unmatched love, peace, and serenity--and at its worst can lead to death, war, or a punch in the nose in a bowling alley.

The magic of fiction is that this place may not exist anywhere in the world, and may never have existed in the reader's or viewer's life, but it is a place we know must exist because we so want it to exist and never end because it is so heartachingly perfect.

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More Dan in Real Life (2007) reviews
review by . May 21, 2008
Didn't plan to see this, but I've discovered a long time ago that movies are more enjoyable when you have no idea what it is about-in other words, unexpected surprises. Well, Dan in Real Life is one of those unexpected surprises. It was thoroughly charming and often funny, not as in laugh out loud funny but more of feel-good funny. Sometimes, comedies like this are the ones that get me more than the laugh out loud comedies (ex. Superbad). Its warmth totally won me over, like a puffy winter jacket. …
review by . March 12, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
`Dan in Real Life' has a solid premise that seldom falters. It's partly a family film and partly a romantic comedy, but the results are always engaging.    Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a newspaper columnist who gives people family advice. He's a widower of four years but is rearing his three daughters. At home he's strict to the point of obsession, so he won't let his fifteen year old date a boyfriend for fear of infatuation.     Pending is his family's yearly …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Steve Carell’s best film performance to date can be found in the fitfully engagingDan In Real Life, where his long-suffering persona suits a character who lets his long-dormant hopes rise for a moment, only to be shot down again. Carell plays Dan Burns, a newspaper columnist who writes about family issues and relationships. As a widower with three growing girls to raise, however, the difference between Dan’s printed wisdom and his struggles with fatherhood and loneliness is often vast. He’s put to a severe test when he packs up the kids for a cabin holiday with his parents and siblings, then falls for the exotic, if elusive, Marie (Juliette Binoche) during a solo excursion to a bookstore. Stirred by a woman for the first time since his late wife, Dan is shocked to find that Marie is actually dating his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), and that she’ll be spending the vacation with him in the midst of his family. From that point, the script, co-written by director Peter Hedges (Pieces of April), pretty much becomes a parade of difficult circumstances under which both Dan and Marie have to keep their attraction to one another secret. Certain scenes work better than others, but there is an overall monotony to the movie that isn’t helped by a lack of onscreen chemistry between Binoche and Carell. Both actors are fine on their own terms, but whatever is supposed to be clicking between Marie and Dan isn’t compelling enough to make one truly care that they get...
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Genre: Comedy
DVD Release Date: March 11, 2008
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment / Touchstone
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