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Dan In Real Life

Dan In Real Life

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Director/Writer Peter Hedges and Writer Pierce Gardner; Just Like Family – The Making of Dan in Real Life; Handmade Music – Creating the score featurette; Deleted Scenes; Outtakes.

STEVE Carell proved he could mix drama and comedy to brilliant effect with his memorable portrayal of a suicidal Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine. He does it again as a widowed father attempting to balance parental responsibility with illicit romance in Dan In Real Life.

As the eponymous Dan Carell plays a respected newspaper columnist and widowed father of three daughters who finds his life turned upside down during the annual family get-together at the coastal home of his folks (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest).

A chance encounter at the local book store with the beautiful Marie (Juliette Binoche) initially provides him with an unlikely shot at love until, just hours later, he finds himself being introduced to his brother’s (Dane Cook) new girlfriend.

Over the ensuing weekend, both Dan and Marie attempt to make sense of their attraction towards each other while attempting to keep up with the embarrassing family games.

Peter Hedges’ film is a heart-warming bittersweet comedy that deftly mixes laugh-out loud moments with touching personal insights that will probably resonate with everyone. It’s sharp, witty and tender and never outstays its welcome.

Carell, for his part, provides a tremendously endearing presence and comfortably mixes some of his better-known slapstick expertise (such as finding himself fully clothed in a shower) with some genuinely affecting emotional asides. And his chemistry with Binoche (luminous as usual) is near perfect.

A strong support cast also ensures that the film feels like a well-rounded family drama, with Mahoney and Wiest providing embarrassment and sympathy in equal measure as Dan’s parents, and Dane Cook some congenial ladies’ man appeal as his brother. Watch out, too, for Emily Blunt as a sexy neighbour who adds some belated intrigue to the mix.

In lesser hands, Dan In Real Life could have pandered to the usual Hollywood need to dumb things down and rely on cheesy contrivance, but while there’s plenty of sentiment on show it never feels over-milked and Hedges is content to aim for a more sophisticated approach that helps to keep things grounded in reality and all the more believable.

As a result, he has created a set of characters that are genuinely worth rooting for and a film that leaves a much bigger lasting impression. Dan In Real Life delights from beginning to end and will probably leave you glowing for some time afterwards.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 98mins
UK DVD Release Date: June 9, 2008