Steve Carell continues his successful run as a leading man with his latest film “Dan in Real Life.” Carell plays Dan, an advice columnist four years removed from the sudden loss of his wife, trying his best to raise his three daughters and deal with his eccentric family. The film does a great job of blending humor and dramatic elements thanks in part to the fine direction of Peter Hedges, who also co-wrote the script. Overall, “Dan in Real Life” is a funny and touching movie about love and family.Those who have followed Steve Carell’s career know that he is not afraid of a challenge. His résumé includes “Evan Almighty,” which was a Jim Carrey-less sequel to the hit “Bruce Almighty” and the remakes of two very popular TV shows. The first of these is NBC’s Golden Globe-winning “The Office,” which originated in England. The other is the 60s goofy spy classic “Get Smart,” which is due in theaters in 2008. Carell shows that he is not afraid to step into big shoes and also that he is more then capable of filling them.
With “Dan in Real Life,” however, Carell expands on what we saw from him in last year’s sleeper hit “Little Miss Sunshine” — his tremendous acting ability. Carell possesses the acting chops that most comedians and even “serious” actors can only dream of having.
Dan is an average guy trying to make his way in the world while raising his three very independent daughters. Carell makes you feel for his character as he does not want to let his daughters grow up for fear of losing them and draws them even closer to himself after the loss of his wife. The family then proceeds to head to Dan’s parent’s house for a family reunion. Dan’s family includes “Frasier” veteran John Mahoney as his dad and Dane Cook as his brother, Mitch. Dan tries his best to keep his emotions on the inside, but it is his family that helps to bring them out.
The real story begins when Dan meets a woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a local bookstore. The two talk for hours and Dan begins to fall for her. Unfortunately for Dan, it will not be that easy as Marie is actually dating his brother Mitch. Fans of “The Office” will appreciate the awkward moments that this situation creates.
Marie is a woman of the world, she seems to have been everywhere and done everything and the family soon falls in love with her, especially Dan’s daughters who admire her independence. The onscreen chemistry between Binoche and Carell is strong and they play off each other very well.
The highlight of the movie is a talent show that the family puts on. Dan and Mitch perform an acoustic version of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.” This song manages to perfectly capture the energy and the emotion of the film, and Carell and Cook do a great job with the scene.
Cook will probably never win an Academy Award, but he is not a bad actor. He turns in yet another solid supporting role here, further proving that he’s much better as a supporting character than a leading man. His hyperkinetic energy plays well with Carell’s downbeat performance to create an interesting dynamic between the two.
“Dan in Real Life” is Peter Hedges’ follow up to his directorial debut, 2003’s “Pieces of April.” He proves that he has a good eye and that his skills as a director are at least equal to his writing skills. Hedges co-wrote and was nominated for an Academy Award for 2002’s “About a Boy”. He also penned 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” which starred Johnny Depp and earned Leonardo DiCaprio an Academy Award nomination.
Hedges uses his experience in the “dramedy” genre to create a perfect balance between humor and dramatic elements in “Dan in Real Life.” His use of simple techniques and setups prove that to be a good director, you don’t need to be flashy, you just have to give your actors the chance to shine, and Hedges does just that.
In a season where horror films and Oscar contenders are starting to overrun movie theaters, “Dan in Real Life” is a great change of pace. It will keep you laughing while also giving you some great lessons about life and growing up.
Carell continues to raise the bar for himself as an actor, and the good news is that he shows no sign of letting up.
Colin McGlinchey is a third-year student majoring in elementary education. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu.