Dan in Real Life Review
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Life is full of surprises. You may not expect to get a promotion when you go to work tomorrow, but sometimes it happens. And you may not expect two outrageous comedians to give perfectly subdued performances in a lovable feel-good comedy, either, but sometimes it happens—like it does in Dan in Real Life.

Steve Carell stars as Dan Burns, a family advice columnist and the widowed father of three daughters. During the annual Burns family vacation at his parents’ waterfront cabin in New England, Dan manages to escape from the rest of the family long enough to pick up a newspaper at the bookstore in town. There, he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche). Over tea and muffins, Dan falls in love with this beautiful and mysterious woman—and he’s thrilled to get her phone number before they go their separate ways.

When he returns to the cabin, Dan’s a new man. But his elation only lasts for a few minutes—until he discovers that Marie is dating his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

Dan in Real Life is full of surprises—the greatest of which is co-writer/director Peter Hedges’s ability to tone down the performances of two typically over-the-top comedians. Though I generally like Carell (despite his tendency toward over-exaggerated silliness), it’s refreshing to see him take a step back and prove that he can do more than just make funny faces. Carell gives a heartfelt performance as the charming but clueless Dan—and even if you can’t usually stomach him, you’ll love him in this role. Similarly, Dane Cook (who usually makes my head hurt) is actually cute in his small role as Mitch. But Carell and Cook aren’t alone. In fact, they’re in great company. The cast of Dan in Real Life is wonderful—from Dianne Weist and John Mahoney as Dan’s parents to the always delightful Binoche.

The story, too, offers its share of surprises—and though the end might not be a total surprise, it’ll keep you guessing nonetheless. And Hedges does a wonderful job of making you feel the story. You’ll feel Dan’s frustration with his family. You’ll feel awkward and uncomfortable and even claustrophobic during the scenes in the over-packed cabin. And you’ll feel Dan’s despair as the woman of his dreams walks away with his undeserving brother. Still, though, despite the precarious situation, the story never loses its sense of humor.

Dan in Real Life is a feel-good movie that’s filled with both heart and humor. Give it a chance, and it’s sure to surprise you, too.

DVD Review:
The Dan in Real Life DVD offers some enlightening special features. In addition to the usual audio commentary and some outtakes, you’ll find almost a half-hour of deleted scenes. Here’s where the familiar old Steve Carell pops up—so if you want to see Carell shoving peas up his nose, be sure to check them out.

The most intriguing features, however, are the two making-of features. One, called Handmade Music, discusses the unusual soundtrack—and how it all came about. And the other, called Just Like Family, offers all kinds of insightful behind-the-scenes stuff. This feature gave me a whole new respect for Hedges (who also directed Katie Holmes’s surprising performance in Pieces of April) and his ability to challenge and inspire his cast. So if you enjoyed Dan in Real Life, don’t miss the special features—because they’ll only make you appreciate the movie even more.

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