Dan In Real Life Review

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Dan Burns (Carell) has a problem. Not only has he accidentally fallen in love with Marie (Binoche), his brother’s new girlfriend, but he now has to endure her company during the annual family get-together.


This is one of those unshowy but nuanced romantic comedies, set up around a cruel but enticingly embarrassing set of affairs, which used to star Steve Martin.

With the silver-haired comedian relegated to crummy Clouseau remakes, it features diminutive comedy giant Steve Carell doing a ‘sophisticated one’ between the big, zany numbers; a chance for him to tone down the childish mugging and wake up the inner adult.

Based upon co-screenwriter Pierce Gardner’s family gatherings on the cold sweep of the Atlantic coast, it posits a what-if-you-fall-for-your-brother’s-girlfriend? premise. Carell is Dan, an advice columnist (what irony!) and widower with three daughters at various stages of that really difficult phase. When he bumps into Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookshop, looking for “something human and funny that could sneak up and surprise you” - a working ethos for the movie - his luck may have changed. Then she crops up at his family’s latest shindig in the company of his younger, cuter but evidently shallower brother Mitch (Dane Cook). A comedy of agony ensues.

With touches of classic Woody Allen, Peter Hedges’ film honourably attempts to locate itself somewhere near real life. The point is that Dan loves his brother and wouldn’t do anything to hurt him, but can’t control the feelings that are swamping him. This is not romance by some Hollywood schematic, but a clumsy, painful, yearning trial by indignity. There is a touching contrast between Dan’s so-called mature affections and the puppy love coursing through his middle daughter Cara (Brittany Robertson) for the boyfriend he has banned: in the end, love makes children of everyone.

As much as Carell subtly evokes the stretched nerves of a man with nowhere to turn, it is Binoche who stands out. As her affection grows for the brother she isn’t dating, she is just enigmatic enough to keep the outcome in doubt. She gives one particular look of irritation, when Dan takes a dance with Emily Blunt, that is almost worth turning up for alone.

Sad then, that it must finally conform to movie logic. The longer the dilemma persists, the more the plot starts to show its hand, and what felt natural grows contrived. Tidy endings are not the stuff of life.

A small but sweetly formed comedy of romantic misfortune that can’t quite keep Hollywood at bay.