' Cinema Romantico: Dan in Real Life

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dan in Real Life

Steve Carrell could own the romantic comedy genre for the next 15, 20 years if he wanted. The guy has got....what's the word? Appeal. Yes, that's it. He's charming without obsessively trying to charm you. He seems so authentic, so real. His problems become your problems. Think of the scene in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" where he sets off on his bike with Asia playing on the soundtrack in an effort to win back his love. You're not thinking, this is ridiculous. He's chasing down a car on his bike with Asia playing on the soundtrack. You're thinking, man, I hope he wins her back. That particular quality is all over "Dan in Real Life".

Carrell is Dan Burns, a widower with three daughters and the writer of a weekly advice column called, oh yes, Dan in Real Life. He wastes no time in angering two of them and then it's off to a family gathering in Rhode Island at one of those great cinematic houses right on the beach and complete with fireplace and many, many rooms though, naturally, Dan winds up sleeping next to the washer & dryer.

Dan heads into town and meets a charming woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a bookstore and they hit it off and talk and talk and he gets her phone number and returns home and tells everyone about this great woman he met at a bookstore and everyone's happy for him and then Dan's brother Mitch (Dane Cook) introduces his new girlfriend and, lo and behold, it's Marie. And so the hijinks are afoot.

Oh, it's a fairly obvious setup but there were a lot of things to like about this movie. I liked the scenario of being stuck in that house because to me it looks like hell on earth. They eat together and play games together and take walks together and....my God in heaven! Does anyone get alone time at these gatherings? There's a fantastic moment when Dan announces he's going to eat at the kids table, in the other room, away from everyone and his mother tells him he can't do that and he replies, exasperated, "Let me be." I got that.

Yes, Carrell carries the movie and Binoche is his equal. (Would you have thought 5 years ago that Juliette Binoche would be in a movie with Steve Carrell AND Dane Cook? I wonder if after takes where Cook did, you know, his typical thing of shouting and hollering and waving his arms about Binoche pulled out her Oscar and declared, "Take it down a notch, sport.") The duo excels at communicating - often without directly saying it - that they do, in fact, share something unique. For instance, the scene where Dan's parents have set him up with a girl he know from grade school - "Pig Face", as she's called (though I'll leave it to you to figure out if that nickname holds up now that she's older) - and Dan's brother and brother in law are singing a "funny" song to Dan about her coming over and everyone's laughing except Dan and Marie who exchange looks wherein they, and they only, understand the stupidity. And later at the bar Marie sees right through Dan and Dan knows she does and so he has to try and prove her wrong which is exactly what I think he'd do in that situation.

Oh, the movie has some problems. It completely falls apart in the third act. All the inevitable twists you can see from a mile off but that you pushed to the deepest part of your mind in hope the movie would avoid them turn up and turn up in just the way you would expect. All the horrible seeds planted throughout spring to horrible fruition and Dan is made to utter dialogue like, "Here's the thing, I haven't been reading my own columns." Oh no! He did not just say that?!

But you know what? I didn't mind that much. I didn't care that Dan was put in all these formulaic situations, and I didn't care because Carrell made me care about Dan. I wanted him to be happy. That's a marvel of acting.

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