Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Dan in Real Life’

“You don’t have to smile,” says Juliette Binoche’s character.

“It’s better than the alternative,” Steve Carell’s character replies.

And that bit of dialogue pretty sums up my entire experience of going to see “Dan in Real Life”: I laughed frequently, but without that crutch to lean on, those two hours would have been one long depress-a-thon.

The strong undercurrent of angst was somewhat surprising given that two well-known funnymen were in the main cast: Carell as the titular Dan and Dane Cook as his brother.

Now, I’ll admit my bias: I sat through all 95 excruciatingly painful minutes of “Evan Almighty” in all its pigeon-poop-joke glory. That’s how much I love Steve Carell. But on the flip side, I watched two minutes of Cook’s standup routine once and nearly stabbed myself in the eye with a salad fork. So, really, it could’ve gone either way.

Co-written and directed by Peter Hedges, the man behind 2003’s “Pieces of April” and the “About a Boy” script, “Dan in Real Life” tells the story of one man’s second chance at love. Carell plays Dan Burns, a widower with three daughters who writes a popular advice column dealing with family issues, who at the same time is still dealing with the loss of his wife four years earlier. While at a claustrophobic family reunion, his concerned mother (Dianne Wiest) tells him to go out and lose himself. He does so, winding up in a bookstore and falling for a quirky woman named Marie (Binoche). Unfortunately, when Dan returns home, wouldn’t you know it: his brother Mitch (Cook) introduces Marie, the love of his life. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Dan and Marie spend most of the movie trying to deny and conceal their connection.

It’s a basic premise, and indeed the film’s plot is entirely predictable. What I hadn’t predicted was the angst. Yet again, I’ve been tricked by the trailer: what I thought would be a lighthearted family romp was instead a film tinged with darkness and exploration of grief and loss. Seriously: Count the number of times they cut to a wide shot of Dan alone in a room, staring around forlornly after his family members have left. It’s almost obscene. We get it, already. Even my favorite exchange (Mitch, while waxing poetic about his girlfriend’s awesomeness over dinner: “I swear, the minute I saw her I felt like I was in the room with an angel.” Dan: “Well…this corn is an angel.”) made me think about what I was really laughing at. This is one sad, lonely little man.

Steve Carell does what he does best: awkwardness. Dane Cook doesn’t go overboard, so I actually pitied the doomed Mitch (sorry, spoiler alert. But seriously, if you were Juliette Binoche, would YOU go with Dane Cook?). The best actor in the film is actually Sondre Lerche’s music. The Norwegian musician scored the entire movie, and the warm acoustic guitar lines punctuate and interact with the dialogue beautifully.

If you’ve got the money to spare, go see “Dan,” and you will laugh, if only as a defense mechanism. It’s not quite on the level of some of Carell’s other projects, like last year’s “Little Miss Sunshine” or television’s “The Office,” but it’s a decent night out. It’s “The Family Stone,” except A) it was funny and B) I actually care somewhat about the characters. Just go in with the correct expectations, and be sure to drop a few happy pills in with your overpriced popcorn beforehand.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *