Dan in Real Life
by Laura Tucker
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All I could immediately think watching Dan in Real Life was that I would like to have Dan’s real life. He has a regular column in the newspaper, has a published book, his family seems to have honest non-dysfunctional fun with each other (as compared to the hokey fun you see on family sitcoms and dramas of the 70s), and his parents live in a big, comfy, old house on the coast of Rhode Island. Of course, that’s just on the surface, as in all other ways Dan’s real life really isn’t all that great.
Dan (Steve Carell) has been widowed for four years and definitely has his hands full with three daughters, two that are teenagers. The eldest won’t stop begging him to drive the car, the middle daughter can’t seem to stay away from her new boyfriend, and lucky for Dan, there really isn’t too much going on with his youngest. None of the girls want to make the annual pilgrimage to their grandparents’ house, but Dan insists, while Cara (Brittany Robertson) declares her father a murderer of love for pulling her away from her boyfriend, and Jane (Alison Pill) protests the trip unless she’s behind the wheel. His youngest, Lilli (Marlene Lawston), tells him he’s a great father, but not a good dad.
Arriving at his parents’ (John Mahoney and Diane Wiest) spacious home, Dan suddenly finds it not so spacious. All of his siblings and their families have made the trip as well, and his brother Mitch (Dane Cook) is having a special guest, and since their parents won’t allow unwedded bliss in their home, Mitch’s new girlfriend will get Dan’s usual room … when she arrives. This places him in the laundry room off the kitchen. To put him even more on edge, Dan receives the news that he’s up for the chance to have his column syndicated.
Still arguing the next morning with his daughters, Dan’s mom kicks him out, sending him out to buy a newspaper. At the bookstore, he strikes up a conversation with a beautiful woman, Marie (Juliette Binoche), who’s looking for a book about love, and one of his suggestions is “Everyone Poops.” They bond while enjoying his purchase of muffin, which he describes as the size of small planet, together, and he finds himself interested in someone other than his deceased wife for the first time. He gets her phone number and bolts home to tell his brothers about the girl he met in the book store. In a plot move that has you saying only in the movies, Mitch’s girlfriend arrives, and it’s none other than Marie.
Another “only in the movies” plot move is involved here, as Dan doesn’t tell anyone Marie is the girl from the bookstore, and she certainly doesn’t announce it either. She fits in very well with the family, including with his daughters, and it has him very much on edge to have her being front and center in his life. They do such fun things as a family such as a Battle of the Sexes Crossword Puzzle, a talent show, and even a group exercise session. If I wasn’t already married, I’d be chasing after one of the bachelors here to be included in the fun. Marie and Dan only seem to grow more and more attracted to each other with every different activity.
I did expect this movie to be a little more humor-driven than it was, but I still enjoyed the dramatic turns. Not that there wasn’t humor, but Steve Carell, while playing the hapless Dan, didn’t turn on his usual comedy. It’s similar in ways to Evan Almighty, as I just ended up enjoying the little comedic bits, but felt every bit of the drama as it unfolded, especially when it concerned his children, who were already hurting from the loss of their mom, and now have to contend with their dad pulling further and further away.
By the end of the film, I was no longer desiring Dan’s life, but comparing his life to my own, and realizing in the end, no one is better off. We all put up with sullen children that have a mind of their own and ups and downs in our careers as well as our love life. However, I’ll keep on dreaming about living in a big, comfy, old house on the coast of Rhode Island.
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