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Dan in Real Life
3.5/5
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Peter Hedges
scr Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges
with Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Emily Blunt, Norbert Leo Butz, Amy Ryan, Jessica Hecht
release US 26.Oct.07,
UK 11.Jan.08
07/US Touchstone 1h38
Dan in Real Life
Family fun: Cook, Binoche and Carell

wiest mahoney blunt

Dan in Real Life As he did in Pieces of April, Hedges astutely dissects family relationships with an enjoyable balance of comedy and drama. The film knowingly examines romance, parenthood, grief and betrayal, but succumbs slightly to simplistic sentimentality.

Dan Burns (Carell) is a local newspaper columnist who's still struggling to emerge from his heartache after the death of his wife four years ago. He's raising his three daughters on his own: level-headed 17-year-old Jane (Pill), burgeoning teen Cara (Robertson) and sensitive 9-year-old Lilly (Lawston). On a weekend with his parents (Mahoney and Weist) and extended family, old patterns re-emerge that put Dan in his place. And the real problem is that he discovers that the first woman (Binoche) he's fallen for in four years is seeing his brother (Cook).

Carell is terrific in the central role, wonderfully balancing Dan's various roles as a father, son and love interest, none of which he's very good at. Carell's timing is perfect, never overplaying the comedy and also resisting the temptation to make Dan hugely likeable. As a result, we identify with his embarrassments, moments of insight and especially the way his family turn him into someone he's not. Meanwhile, Binoche is charming and mercurial, and Cook is solid as a guy who's nice but shallow.

Hedges keeps the film fresh and honest, with dialog and interaction that often feels improvised. This creates a warm, wry and extremely authentic tone. Although it's never a full-on comedy, there are some very funny moments. And Hedges cleverly frames the standard comedy set pieces (such as that hide-in-the-shower chestnut) with such bracing realism that they often become more scary than funny. While the plot's big moments are packed with passion and genuine awkwardness.

So it's a little frustrating that the film never seems to get very far beneath the surface. Despite the edgy, fascinating characters, each one is basically a type, deepened only by the gifted actors and the jagged interaction. As the story progresses the slapstick, romance and drama begin to feel somewhat thin, complete with the expected resolutions and life lessons. But there are plenty of terrific jolts of emotion and raw comedy that make it well worth the ride.

cert pg themes, innuendo 15.Nov.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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