Sunday, March 16, 2008

Review: Dan in Real Life (2007) [Reviewed By Kelsey Zukowski]

Dan in Real Life
Review By: Kelsey Zukowski
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Diane Weist, John Mahoney
Directed By: Peter Hedges
Written By: Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges
Released: 2007
Grade: B+

It can be very hard for an actor to keep a consistent career off of one genre. This particularly seems to be the case through comedy. So in order for them to be thought of as a good actor rather than just the funny guy there must be a divergence of character, theme, or genre in the material they act in. After the horrendous Taladega Nights: The Tale of Ricky Bobby, the much more mellow and dramatic, Stranger Than Fiction, immensely brought out Will Ferrell‘s remarkable talent. There was still comedy in Ferrell’s role, but it was much more subtle and showed a different side to him; proving that he does have depth in his abilities. Dan in Real Life was Steve Carell’s Stranger Than Fiction. There is comedy here, but it is mostly done through natural instinct rather than just for the purpose of being funny.

Dan (Carell) is a middle-aged widowed father who is just trying to find his piece of happiness while still being a good father. He misses his wife very much and just wants to do right by her. It has been four years though and perhaps it is time for him to move on. One day at a bookstore he meets Marie (Binoche) who seems like she could bring his life the spark that he has been missing. Although, she says she is seeing someone, Dan gets her number which brings him hope. Meanwhile, there is plenty of going on in his family life. Every year, the family comes together for the weekend at Dan’s parents house. It is a big event with plenty of activities and bonding that occur during the course of a few days. This is when Dan meets back up with Marie ironically enough. The man she has been seeing is his brother, Mitch (Cook). So he has to spend the whole weekend watching the woman he wishes he had with his brother and act like everything is perfectly fine. The difficulty that this brings causes Dan to act like someone very different from himself. It becomes obvious to everyone in the family what the situation is. Dan had been set up with another girl, which added to Marie’s jealousy along with Dan’s. It all piles up so much that it seems easier to just give in to their emotions and desires.

The problem is that not only is he truly bruising his relationship with his brother, but if Marie would stay with either Dan or Mitch, there would be awkwardness that would continue to tear the family apart. All of Dan’s thoughts become so singled on Marie that he forgets about the reason he is there; his family. His youngest daughter, Lily (Lawston), has been trying to spend time with him. When he is too busy for her, she decides to make something for him in dedication to her mother. The oldest daughter, Jane (Pill) doesn’t feel that her dad understands her or that he gives her enough credit. Cara (Robertson) may feel like this even more. She would rather be with her boyfriend or friends and is spiteful that it isn’t that way. Cara is positive that she is in love although she is still very young and this is after being with her boyfriend for three weeks. When Dan realizes all of his mistakes, he tries to just forget about Marie and just be a father. He realizes though, one or the other isn’t going to complete his life, he needs a balance of both.

Steve Carell is one of the funniest comedians and just as a suspected he has great abilities in dramas and acting period. He does a wonderful job with Dan in Real Life giving it his personal, loveable touch. We sympathize with Dan, but we don’t feel sorry for him. We see there are some things he needs to work out and we just want to see him get there. Carell does exert a light sense of comedy that really works with the understanding we develop for him. With Carell we have a hilarious comedian who turns out to be much more with his vast amount of range. On other hand, there is Dane Cook, he seems to be a comedian who only does well when he isn’t in a comedy or trying to be funny. I thought he was fine in Mr. Brooks and in Dan in Real Life he is actually good. Cook actually makes the audience feel sympathy for him. He has a real down to earth persona and he radiates a presence that suggests that he put a lot on the line for Marie, more so than he would usually for a girl. So when you see a decent guy putting his heart out there, really trying, and constantly being there for his brother, you hate to see him taken advantage of. Juliette Binoche had a similar appeal as well. Everyone in the film loved her, she had great depth and eloquence to her. Even though she is the woman at the root of all of the trouble, we don’t blame her. She even wants to tell Mitch upfront about her and Dan’s situation, but Dan insisted that she didn’t. Marie tried to act natural and be loyal to the one that she was initially with. When this becomes too hard for her, even in her moment of weakness, she tries to escape, not wanting to hurt anyone further.

Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, and Marlene Lawston do a wonderful job as Dan’s three daughters. Alison Pill is the oldest and most mature of the three yet she needs more room to breath and to experience new and exciting things. Pill displays this while still being there for her sisters and trying to get her dad to be the man that he once was. Brittany Robertson really stood out to me. Her performance was very accurate as there were many young teenage girls who she so closely resembled. Robertson’s character, Cara, hates to spend a minute away from her social life especially her boyfriend. She is so sure that she is completely in love and a few weeks with him is the equivalent of eternity to her. Yet she ends up showing her father that sometimes love can emerge quickly and surprise you. Marlene Lawston did very well as the youngest child. She seemed to still be there for her father more than anyone else as her heart almost exceeded her size. Diane Weist and John Mahoney played Dan’s loving parents. They pushed him at times, but they really just wanted what was best for him.
The one thing in Dan in Real Life that I would have changed was how things ended with Dan and Mitch. There was no real conclusion even though the conflict between them was one of the largest of the film. Mitch is furious and hurt when he finds out that Dan went behind his back to be with Marie. He then goes out on a date with the women who Dan recently went out with. It is unclear whether this is to get back at Dan, to get over Marie, or perhaps a little bit of both. This is a critical resolution since unless Mitch forgives and finds someone else that he falls completely in love with than there will never be peace in the family. Aside from this though, the film does a very good job of showing us different qualities of many of the different characters. It is hard not to see something that you like in each one of them. They are all living with very real life situations that prove to be timeless issues since there are similar elements in all of them. This is true through love, life, travel, confidence, desires, dreams, and realizing what you do have in life. Dan in Real Life is presented in a very natural way that is refreshing using the cast, characters, and very well written script to bring out the emotions and relativity of this unique but large and loving family.

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