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Dan In Real Life
cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Emily Blunt, and Dianne Wiest

director: Peter Hedges

94 minutes (PG) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is an advice columnist for the 'New Jersey Standard', and his 'Dan in Real Life' column, which dispenses sage advice for families, is being considered for syndication. A widower for four years, Dan's life now revolves solely around his three daughters. But all that is about to change.

It's time for the annual jaunt to Rhode Island, joining his siblings and their families to help parents Nana (Dianne Wiest) and Poppy (John Mahoney) close up their house. Sent out for a newspaper, Dan ventures into the 'Book and Tackle', meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), who is seeking a good book, and is instantly smitten. But his high hopes of a romantic attachment are dashed when Marie turns out to be brother Mitch's (Dane Cook) latest girlfriend.

So ensues the weekend from hell, as Dan tries first to quash his feelings for Marie, then to hide them, attempts hindered by her ambivalence towards him. Should he confess all to Mitch? And couldn't he be accused of hypocrisy, given that he is ignoring advice he dispensed to daughters and readers alike? Before the course of true love can run smooth, Dan has to learn a salutary lesson, much to the amusement, embarrassment and consternation of his family.

The Rhode Island scenery is breathtaking, and the spare, mostly acoustic soundtrack by Sondre Lerche fits perfectly. But the choice of international actress Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) as Carell's (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) love interest made me blink. Unfortunately, the casting is symptomatic of a film that seems to be tugging in two directions, for though it passes the time enjoyably enough, and seasoned pros Wiest (Hannah And Her Sisters) and Mahoney (Frazier) provide solid support, as do the accomplished young actresses (Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, and Marlene Lawston) playing Dan's longsuffering daughters, it rapidly becomes apparent that Dan In Real Life can't make up its mind what kind of comedy it is.

It's partly the script, in which subtlety and realism sit uneasily next to farfetched contrivance for the sake of a laugh. Would Dan's mother really expect him to sleep in the laundry room with an unfeasibly noisy washer/ drier going all night? And would a sudden romantic crush really cause such a stuffy, grown man to regress so quickly to such childish levels of behaviour? And it's partly the contrast between actors and acting styles. Maybe I was projecting my own discomfort, but Binoche seems ill at ease with scenes that require her to shower naked with a clothed Carell, or lead an exercise class fixated on her bum, but she's game and mostly carries it off, as does poor Emily Blunt in a role which requires little more from her than to be the butt of a 'pig nose' joke. As for Carell, when he can keep his impulse to indulge in physical comedy in check, he makes a convincing, at times even touching parent, but I kept fearing that at any minute he might succumb (which from the evidence of the outtakes, he occasionally did). So, does the casting work? The chemistry between the two leads is patchy - it's totally lacking in the crucial scene where Dan and Marie first meet, unfortunately, but becomes more convincing as the film progresses.

Dan In Real Life is a curate's egg of a film then, with Binoche at times looking like a swan in the midst of a gaggle of geese. But given her character's nomadic foreign background, maybe that was director Peter Hedges' intention all along. The DVD extras comprise subtitles, an audio commentary by director Peter Hedges, a 15-minute 'making-of' documentary, and a ten-minute Creating The Score featurette in which Hedges talks about Sondre Lerche's involvement. Several deleted scenes, with commentary, and outtakes are also included.

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