Comedian Steve Carell burst into mainstream prominence as the world's best know 40 Year Old Virgin, and popularity grew with his The Office US series. But a quick blip on the radar with Evan Almighty made us wonder if he will be able to sustain a series of successes given what I think is a dearth of funny comedians to hit the big screen of late - output seemed to have slowed a bit from the likes of Mike Myers, Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid was not exactly really funny), Will Farell and even Jim Carrey, with whom Carell will be collaborating with in an animated feature in next year's Dr Horton Hears a Who.
I thought Dan in Real Life followed the Adam Sandler route with having to star in this year's equivalent of the latter's Spanglish, and does show that Carell the funnyman has some dramatic acting chops in him to commandeer this movie on his shoulders. Like Sandler, he has this everyday man appeal without the need for any hint of exaggeration, and this chummy buddy persona that makes him quite likable.
Steve Carell plays Dan the columnist who dispenses parenting advice in his newspaper column Dan in Real Life, where a routine day of the widower involves providing email counselling to his readers, and being the overprotective father to his three young daughters Jane, Cara and Lilly. Clearly while his love for them shows, his daddy nature goes overboard with not being convinced that one of them is old enough to drive under supervision, and another whose boyfriend and teenage puppy love infatuation stage he frowns upon. From the onset, his relationship with his daughters look set to improve given time out for an extended family get together in an out of town retreat, but as all romantic comedy dictates, he will meet a special somebody which will prove to be his undoing.
Well, not in a bad way of course. Sometimes when you think about it, the concept of the perfect soulmate does reside in timing. You might think that you've met that special someone, but the timing somehow just isn't right, and naturally things do not work out, even though you think that it might (who plans for a breakup from the start anyway?) Watching how smooth Dan is, his mark Ann Marie (Juliette Binoche, whom we last saw on screen opposite Jude Law in Breaking and Entering) spends an afternoon with Dan chatting (with the camera lingering at all angles imagined possible), and find that they click. Just like that. However, herein lies the complication, as it turns out, Marie is the girlfriend of Dan's brother Mitch (Good Luck Chuck himself), whom he brought along to introduce to all and sundry.
So now the question is, do you pretend that that spark of chemistry never existed, or like Mitch himself put it, so long as there's no rock on the finger, it's fair game? Here's where the fun in the movie comes in, with both parties trying to decide whether to tell, or play pretend amongst family members? And does each party think whether it's love, or just a passing stage of infatuation? The movie poses a number of questions, some of which the answers are fairly clear, depending on the values you subscribe to. But in pondering and reacting in a relatively childish manner, Dan does himself no favours, as he slowly slips into a mode of hypocrisy, becoming what he tells his daughters not to, and breaking almost all the rules he lays down for them.
Dan in Real Life serves up more dramatic moments with a focus on romance, rather than being an outright comedy. So for Carell fans who think that it's gonna be laugh a minute, think again. The ensemble cast playing the supporting roles of the extended family members are fun, but truth is there's so many of them that each get very little screen time. However, this is still a very charming movie about love, parental-child unconditional love, and an exhibition of the axiom that blood is indeed thicker than water. Farell and Binoche share top notch chemistry as a couple with secrets hidden between themselves, and their constant playing of games is a delight to watch. One of my favourite scenes involve a 4-way interaction at a diner that hit all the right notes, and another an insane and totally politically incorrect song involving pigs.
It's ultimately a feel good movie, so don't expect proceedings to go in too heavy and deep, as it skirts around the subplots it creates decently, with little surprises, playing out just like one will almost expect it to be. Given it's runtime, there are obvious scenes from the trailer that is left unused, which would probably appear in the DVD release. For Carell fans, and fans of family dramas with a dash of romance, this one comes recommended.
And here's THE song in the movie, as performed by Carell and Dane Cook. Will surely open the floodgates for sentimental folks when you hear their rendition!
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