Family Strife in Real Life

Lottie Heales 31 January 2008

Dan In Real Life

2 stars

It was with cautious optimism that I went to watch ‘Dan In Real Life’, penned by Peter Hedges of ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ fame. The prospect of Steve Carell taking another dramatic turn after his compelling performance as the suicidal Frank in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, coupled with the eternally delightful Juliet Binoche further inflated my hopes that this might turn out to be a hidden gem. Sadly the film, while far from terrible, is nothing special.

Most of the characters are written in a predictable fashion, something I hadn’t expected from Hedges. Carell’s character is an advice columnist, widower and father of three teenaged daughters. He is put upon and weary, forever prioritising the needs of others before his own and in the process has lost sight of what it really is to be a parent. He has also lost sight of what it is to fall in love. During a trip with his daughters to their annual family reunion, Dan meets Marie (Binoche), a clichéd exotic French woman, and immediately finds himself smitten. A spanner is of course thrown into the works when we find out that Marie is in town because she is Dan’s brother’s girlfriend, who he’s brought along for the reunion. It’s this that sets the film in motion and forces Dan to make decisions about the priorities in his life.

The acting of Carell and Binoche cannot really be faulted; both turn in original and nuanced performances in spite of the often formulaic material. But the tension between Dan and his brother is never really examined, and the father-daughter relationships, which could have provided some ground for emotional development, are brushed over while much of the film is wasted watching the protagonist brood and pine over Marie.

While the film has its faults it isn’t entirely without redemption; the pairing of Carell and Binoche works incredibly well, yielding more chemistry than one might have expected. It doesn’t cave to the pressure to become just another ‘Knocked Up’ style rom-com and does, on occasion, make some pertinent points about whether some form of personal selfishness is in fact necessary.

But while the film isn’t awful, the real shame is that it’s being mediocre when it could have been so much more. The cast and concept were such that it could have made a real attempt to say something about the nature of family relationships and the consequences of consistently ignoring one’s own needs. As it is, the film does nothing more than add to Hollywood’s pile of tepid romantic comedies. As films go, it is a pleasant diversion and if you want something with a guaranteed happy ending then it may be for you. If you’re looking for a romantic comedy with a little more substance, then perhaps give it a miss.

Lottie Heales