Sometimes there is nothing better than a nice warm and inspirational comedy during the fall months to bring us away from our hectic lives. Peter Hedges (“Pieces of April”) comes to us with his new film “Dan in Real Life” starring America’s favorite new film star Steve Carell. This film had a real chance to be that “warm and fuzzy” film of the year. Instead it was a fully depressing tragicomedy that really falls short in the comedy department.
Steve Carell stars as lonely heart/widower Dan, a writer who gives advice to families in his weekly newspaper column. A single father of three, Dan finds himself happy with his relationship with his kids – a feeling of which his kids do not reciprocate. He takes his kids to his parents’ house in Rhode Island for the annual get-together. During the first day of the trip he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) at the book store. They feel a real connection but Dan soon finds out that his new dream woman is dating his younger brother Mitch (by quite dramatically by the over-the-top comedian Dane Cook). The tensions build and Dan must hide his feelings while trying to play the fun uncle for his family. His dilemma only draws more tension on his relationship with his daughters and his family who all seem to want to help him.
The biggest problem with the film is its lack of reality. The title is misleading because the “Real Life” that Dan’s family wants him to enter is a real life that only exists in bad movies. The family is completely unrealistic. They have morning group exercises, crossword puzzle challenges, and then put the fake cherry on the faux sundae by having a family talent show. This family is more like an annoying summer camp than a “real” American family. They seem to want to help Dan, but he is only real character in the film with real emotions. Their support is unwarranted and misleading to the very end.
The film does not feel real at all. It is very hard to care about these characters. Juliette Binoche performs very well but her character has very little depth – in fact she won’t even let Dan know anything about her. Dan is the only character who we feel bad for, and it’s not because of his situation but because his family is constantly getting mad at him for little to no reason. His daughters are unnecessarily angry with him all the time. One of them says completely hateful and mean things that no daughter would ever say to their father in person. Dane Cook shows a rare dramatic side and does a pretty good job with his thinly written role. Nothing in this film made sense which made it more frustrating overall.
In 2003 Peter Hedges came out with “Pieces of April.” It was a wonderfully deep and warm film that turned out to be one of the best films of the year. This effort was a bland attempt at warmness. The performances are mostly top notch but the story never jumps off the ground and is overblown with clichés and cheesiness. It is also a predictable film on every level culminating in one of the cheesiest endings in recent film history. Steve Carell shares a few heartwarming scenes with his character’s nieces and nephews. Unfortunately those scenes are in the middle of a heap of depression and sadness.
There is one saving grace of the film that can be achieved without having to actually see it. The soundtrack was absolutely terrific. It was fully composed by Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche. It is the perfect indie film soundtrack that finds itself in a bad Hollywood movie.
Everything in this movie has been done before and will be done in many stupid movies for years to come. There is too much falseness to this film in its genre that makes it very hard to find uplifting or funny. Steve Carell has been on an up and down roller coaster lately with some excellent films (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Little Miss Sunshine”) and some serious bombs (“Evan Almighty”). If you’re a fan of his work, do yourself a favor and wait for the DVD. Grade: C