Good columnists seem to be masters of words, carefully handcrafting each entry with the right balance of wit, humor and empathy, in order to create something that is readable and relatable to a wide variety of audiences. Yet, how do master act and socialize outside of their written words? That very question is answered for one writer, Dan (Steve Carell), as a widowed single father of three girls in “Dan In Real Life.”
Dan is introduced as an overbearing, hardworking father who tries to protect his girls from any “danger.” For example, the dangers of love for his 13-year-old, Cara (Brittany Robertson), or letting his recently licensed 17-year-old, Jane (Alison Pill) drive his car. His protective nature causes both girls to be angry with their father on the way to their family weekend trip. His youngest, Lilly, played by Marlene Lawston, is not yet of age to start hating her parents.
Once at the cozy Long Island cabin home, we are introduced to Dan’s family. His mother (Dianne Wiest), his father (John Mahoney), his brothers Mitch (Dane Cook) and Clay (Norbert Leo Butz), Clay’s wife, Eileen (Amy Ryan), his sister Amy (Jessica Hecht) and his brother-in-law, Howard (Frank Wood).
Dan, a responsible and structured man, falls apart when he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookshop while trying to get away from his family. Though it seems to be an instant connection, Dan learns that she is currently in a relationship with someone else.
This scenario of the huge, loving family with some conflicts may seem all too familiar (“The Family Stone,” perhaps?), yet that is definitively intentional in this film. Audiences will probably be able to relate to the family’s characters more so than in other films of its genre.
Carell makes this film. Playing a sensitive columnist father is definitely a change from his usual comedic roles (“The 40-year-old Virgin” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”). It is the awkward moments he brings to life in Dan that make his acting skills stand out from the rest of the cast, much like his lead character in NBC show “The Office.”
The plot is very predictable and easy to follow. There are also a lot of holes in the story. For example, we never see a full back-story about Dan’s first wife. We know that she is gone, but we do not get specific details. The story is focusing on Dan rebuilding his life after such an event, yet a little more detail would have given the story more depth. It also feels like the plot is trying to be two things at once: a comedy about a close-knit family spending time together for a weekend, and a drama about Dan’s personal life and the growth that comes from transitioning to single dad.
The soundtrack also helps tell their story as it flows seamlessly in and out of the scenes. Sondre Lerche creates most of the soundtrack for the film, which consists of an eclectic mix of soft sounds and indie rock.
“Dan In Real Life” follows the popular notion that it is easier to give advice than to take it yourself. Although Dan may very easily and skillfully advise others through their problems in life and love, we see that even a popular, praised columnist finds it hard to take his own advice. Outside of his well-written columns, he is an awkward mess just like everyone else. Carell, as well as the other cast members, shake the story up from the usual family comedy into a thoughtful, real-life exploration on love, relationships, and bending the rules.
Do you have more to say than a comment? Want any feedback from the writer? Story ideas? Click on The Gripevine.