It may take some doing to wash the bad taste of Evan Almighty out of our mouths, but Steve Carell will no doubt try. With The Office due back on our television screens soon and Get Smart waiting in the wings, Carell will make us forget he once built an ark for Morgan Freeman. Even the uneven DVD, Dan in Real Life should help, at least somewhat.
The big Steve Carell fans out there already know he isn’t just about the comedy. His portrayal of The Office’s unintentionally hilarious boss, Michael Scott, allows him the odd moment of true poignancy or joy, which he repeatedly nails. His role in Little Miss Sunshine demonstrated a real knack for dramedy. Now with Dan in Real Life, he proves himself capable of succeeding, although not excelling, as a romantic comedy lead.
Carell plays Dan Burns, a newspaper advice columnist who, predictably, doesn’t have the best handle on his own home life. A widower with three daughters, Dan is lonely and overprotective. He doesn’t want brainy Jane (Alison Pill) to drive, skanky Cara (Brittany Robertson) to date, or precious Lilly (Marlene Lawston) to grow up. The family heads up to a regularly scheduled reunion with the families of Dan’s brothers and sister at the summer home of Dan’s parents (the underused Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) on a gorgeous lake in quaint Rhode Island. Does this sound like any “Real Life” you are familiar with?
Dan runs off to a bookstore in town to buy some newspapers and meets Marie (Juliette Binoche.) They spend quite a bit of time talking and for what is clearly the first time in a long time, Dan gets someone’s number. Unfortunately, as often happens in movies of this ilk, she is the new girlfriend of Dan’s brother, Mitch (Dane Cook.) Most of the rest of the film involves Dan and Marie trying to deny their growing attraction without letting anyone else at the house in on the secret. Happens all the time in your “Real Life” doesn’t it?
As should be clear, this is not Dan in Real Life, it’s Dan in Real Movie Life or Dan in Romantic Comedy World Life. The meeting of Dan and Marie and their reaction to it wouldn’t seem realistic to anyone. His manner of dealing with being attracted to his brother’s girlfriend, including somehow getting stuck in a running shower and falling off the roof, are standard romantic comedy staples. Too many coincidences exist, not just in Dan and Marie’s relationship, but in Dan’s blind date with a hot doctor (Emily Blunt) and Dan’s resolving some long festering disagreements with his three kids, all on the same weekend. It’s just too much going on to really let any one area shine.
In the context of unrealistic but sweet romantic comedy, though, it mostly succeeds. There is a nice amount of humor with only one or two over-the-top moments clearly inserted by the studio to take advantage of Carell’s built in audience. The moments between Dan and his daughters and family members are light and touching. Carell does a good job portraying Dan’s loneliness and then growing attraction to Marie. Unfortunatley, Binoche can’t convey the same attraction and the sparks between the two leads never really fly. That’s not critical, though, as it is believable enough to move the plot along.
The rest of the cast is pretty top-notch. Good actors like Amy Ryan, Norbert Leo Butz, and Jessica Hecht have very little to do, but show up and deliver funny lines when needed. This isn’t laugh out loud in the style of 40-Year-Old Virgin, but more low key and comfortable. In keeping with the basic style of the relationships and humor, the music is also quite nice. Sondre Lerche provides an acoustic guitar based score that fits in nicely with the action onscreen. Director and co-writer Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) brings everything to table to try and make this more than just a standard romantic comedy, but he can’t rise above the limits of the material.
Those looking for Michael Scott like hijinks from Carell will be disappointed. However, if a low-key romance with some genuine laughs are on the agenda, this movie will fit the bill nicely. Just ignore the title.
Although Steve Carell is the reason most people will want to rent this movie in the first place, director/co-writer Peter Hedges dominates the extras. He provides the sole commentary track. Like the movie itself, it’s good without being exceptional in any way. Hedges has a lot to say and is smooth and engaging in his comments. The commentary runs the gamut from shot set-ups to character motivation and adds a nice insight. It’s just a little bit bland.
The disc includes two making-of featurettes and Hedges is the primary focus of both. The first, called “Just Like Family: The Making of Dan in Real Life,” is more general and lasts about 15 minutes. Hedges talks about how he got involved with the script and his general philosophy of the movie. Most of the cast members are interviewed to some degree. The featurette also gives some background on bringing the cast together as a family and finding the right house that is the primary location. The segment, unfortunately, also includes cast members talking about how great the director is, how great the other cast members are, and the usual baloney. Carell tries to make it more interesting by dead-panning his dislike of Hedges, but they eventually give it away.
The second featurette, called “Handmade Music: Scoring Dan in Real Life” is supposed to be about Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche, who wrote the background music for the film, but again Hedges is heavily involved and talked about. It’s part of the reason the segment lasts 11 minutes instead of the five or six that actually focus on Lerche and his acoustic guitar based style.
There is a two minute real of outtakes that provides the usual flubbed lines and laughing on set. It is a basic gag reel without the funny music that is sometimes used to jazz them up a little. There is also a hidden one minute extra (accessed by hitting the down button when you are on the “audio commentary” choice in the special features menu) called “One More Time?” It involves quick shots of Carell asking to do takes of various scenes again. Finally, there are 11 deleted scenes lasting about 15 minutes. They can be viewed with Hedges commentary or alone. Although most were cut for pacing reasons and don’t add much, you can also view an extended scene of the family talent show, which is sorta cute.
The disc has a good quality transfer and the sound and picture are what you’d expect for a major studio release. This is a cute, entertaining but ultimately forgettable movie that is packaged as a cute, entertaining but ultimately forgettable DVD. A rental rather than a purchase.