Film: "Dan in Real Life"; Cast: Steve Carrell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, John Mahoney, Dianne Weist; Director: Peter Hedges; Rating: ***
Sometimes movies arrive like whispers and are so gentle in their impact that it’s a shame many people just don’t get to watch them.
Actor Steve Carrell anchors "Dan in Real Life" – a sweet, slightly sentimental movie that strives to be honest in its depiction of family relationships and looking for the ‘right’ kind of love.
It has none of the hallmarks of a blockbuster and will most probably fall below the radar of most people who, if they watch it, will actually like it a lot.
Director Peter Hedges stuck to his forte and with this movie continues exploring pretty much the same themes he did in his scripts for "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?", "About a Boy" and "Pieces of April" – which he wrote and directed. All these movies strove to explore the complexities of human relationships; especially those of family.
Steve Carrell returns to stay somewhat close to the other characters he played so well in hit TV show "The Office", "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Little Miss Sunshine".
But what saves this movie from outright sentimentality is the way Carrel portrays negative emotions like jealousy and frustration without looking like a real jerk. Neither does he try to wring out sentimentality from the many dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the movie.
Carrell plays Dan, a widower tending his three daughters who all go for a family reunion at his parents place. There he meets a charming woman (Juliette Binoche) and sparks fly, but it is short lived as he discovers she is his brother’s girlfriend. The rest of the movie is their struggle to do the right thing even as love pulls in the opposite direction.
The strong point of the film is clearly the characters. The movie teems with characters and yet by the end we feel we know each one pretty well. But as with most character-driven plots, some relationships seem contrived and others are not given enough room to be properly explored.
But the few pivotal relationships – between Dan and his daughters, his parents, his brother and girlfriend – are probed deep enough to give the plot some sense of authenticity.
The director also makes us feel comfortable in the setting. The small activities that the family engages in and the way they show concern for Dan especially, all ring true. The cast is comprised of some veteran actors who seem to have lightened up immensely and seem to stroll through their parts leisurely.
Dianne Weist, playing the mother, and Juliette Binoche are both Oscar winners, and John Mahoney is a veteran, having starred in the hit 90s TV show "Fraser". The supporting actors all understand their parts and fit nicely into the endearing stereotypes they represent.
This movie doesn’t look like it will attract too much of an audience. But for those who want to quieten things a bit, slow down a little, and want to spend some time with real people trying to answer some real life problems, this movie will satisfy.