Dan in Real Life is Simply Wonderful. Steve Carrell is sweetly normal. Juliette Binoche is perfect.
Dan Burns (Steve Carrell of “The Office”) is a popular advice columnist and widower who is in a bit of a slump and can’t seem to get his own life straightened out. Until one day during an annual family gathering, he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche, “Chocolat”), a radiant specimen of a woman who seems to be framed in a hazy filter hearkening back to the starlets of classic cinema. Chemistry between Dan and Marie happens over tea and a muffin, but the two must part ways as soon as they met.
Later we are treated to Dan’s tight-knit, fun-loving relatives who do everything together on their annual family hooplah, from eating to tag-team aerobics, and even making sure Dan is poked fun at for being a bachelor. Dan's family, headed by mom and dad (Diane Wiesst and John Mahoney), is a big quirky, nosey family, but never mean-spirited, gossipy or outlandish. Their familial bond may be overwhelming sometimes, but their portrayal never ventures into parody or crude exaggeration a la "Meet the Fockers" or "The Nutty Professor". Of course, the story provides wonderfully awkward family moments, but behind the Burns family's hijinks is a genuine love and understanding toward Dan and his four-year grieving period.
Then, Dan falls in love with the girl his adoring brother (Dane Cook) has brought to the family gathering, thus beginning the roller-coaster of restrained longing and funny budding of love.
Although Cook has yet to establish himself as a good actor, he does what's needed for the role. He could have easily played up his wildcat frat boy persona, but he tones it down to just a small streak of party boy along a guy who just wants to settle down. At first, I thought Greg Kinnear could have been a great choice for the role, making the struggle between the brothers a lot more emotional, but Cook is sufficient.
Carrell is great once again in a subtler role as Dan, a more normal flavor of his quirky everyman persona. He's got the comedy and drama chops to pull these movies off without ever making us feel like he's out for an Oscar (take notes, Mr. Williams and Mr. Carrey).
In "Dan" he's not particularly hip or clever, which I enjoyed. Too many comedies nowadays are obsessed with wordiness, sand-dry humor and biting wit that they lose any pleasurable story. In “Dan” there’s a fun balance of visual storytelling and funny-but-real dialogue. I could go on but simply put: this movie is awesome.
I highly recommend “Dan in Real Life”. It’s definitely one of my favorite romantic comedies. Step aside, Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan, Binoche is on a level above with a glowing beauty, sweet simplicity, and intellectual mystique.
It could be thought of as a family romantic comedy, but it’s also a perfect date movie, trust me, you’ll laugh and you’ll love it. Filled with fun and magical love, “Dan in Real Life” won’t disappoint.