Dan in Real Life stars Steve Carrell as a columnist who writes about the struggles of parenthood, who is trying to get his life back together three years after his wife died. Dan is also the father of three girls who present him with more than a few challenges and material for his column.
Dan and his girls go up to Dan’s parents’ summer house in upstate New York to help them pack it up for the winter. This is a family tradition that happens every year, and this year is no different, except that when Dan goes out to get the paper in the local town he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a little bookshop. Little does Dan realise, when he and Marie spend hours talking, that she is his brother’s girlfriend, and falls head over heels for her.
For most of the remainder of the movie, Dan and Marie dance around each other trying to figure out how they feel about each other and what they should do, and in focussing all his attention on Marie, Dan alienates his daughters.
The premise for the movie sounds a little hokey, and at times it is, but it is also charming and heart-warming. Steve Carrell has already shown his “straight” acting skills in Little Miss Sunshine, but he is more central in Dan in Real Life and so is allowed to shine. His character makes many mistakes that we all have along the road and even though he manages to annoy his daughters and temporarily push them away from him, Dan emerges at the end as a really likeable character.
It is easy to see why Dan falls for Juliette Binoche’s character of Marie, she is tactile and warm, and Dan’s family are all as entranced with her as she is. Dan’s children love her because she makes time for them, and the family love her for the same reasons. Juliette Binoche does not stretch herself to play Marie, but the audience empathises with her and that is all that is needed.
The narrative of Dan in Real Life does not push any boundaries, but it does not need to. The film is aware that it is what it is – a simple (and at times complicated) story of love and attraction and does not try to be anything more than that. Dan’s daughters provide a little comic relief – the middle daughter in particular is brilliant (mainly because I can remember how it feels to be a love sick teenager and this made me realise how stupid I looked), but Carrell as always provides the laughs, and surprisingly, a few tear jerking moments.
All in all, Dan in Real Life is a movie that will leave you with a smile on your face and wanting to hug your friends… That said, however, perhaps the credit sequence gave a little too much away and tried to explain too much to the audience, but it is not enough to distract from the movie as a whole.