Review: Dan in Real Life

Back in my dorkier days (Yes, ladies, I was much, much dorkier than this), I reviewed every episode of The X-Files as it aired

At one point, I fancied myself a qualified TV and movie critic. And although I don’t even reach the viewing frequency or brilliance of some of my more prolific reviewer friends (e.g., Kris and Justin), I’ve come to appreciate my own unique viewing perspective (i.e., my bar for entertainment is fairly low, I like to connect movies to God and philosophy, and I pretend like I know a little bit about directing).

The context for this particular post: When I switched to Verizon FIOS HD as a result of, um, acquiring my recent 32″ toy, I got a free month of premium channels. And so I’ve spent the last few days viewing some HD movies on demand. So I decided to start up the reviews again. First on the list:

Dan in Real LifeDan in Real Life (3 out of 4 stars)

I’ve been a fan of Steve Carell since The Daily Show. I’m impressed with the quality of Carell’s work and his ability not to be artistically pigeonholed by his TV character, Michael Scott (cf. The Office). He seems to have a good, everyman quality that allows him to avoid — thankfully — the typecasting that has befallen Jim Carrey. I enjoyed Carell’s Andy Stitzer in The 40-year Old Virgin. I enjoyed him equally in this film, an adult, uncaricatured movie that tackles life’s complications with heart and with a grin.

Carell is Dan Burns, a widower and father of three who discovers that a woman he falls in love with at a bookstore is actually his brother’s (Dane Cook) girlfriend. They all meet up at a family vacation in Rhode Island where, in between all the hyper-organized family activities, secret loves and desires are revealed. Some surprisingly poignant moments ensue, primarily because Carell imbues Dan with an ethos that easily wins the audience’s sympathy. Dan is imperfect — and there are moments in the film where he is genuinely a-holish —  and yet Carell somehow portrays that he is no more or less imperfect than the rest of the Burns clan (ably played by Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Norbert Leo Butz, among others). The girlfriend, Marie, played by a surprisingly accessible Juliette Binoche lends a bit of necessary cognitive dissonance to the film. At points we view the Burns family through her eyes, and we understand how Dan is the way he is. The performances are quite solid all around, including Dane Cook’s, who usually attacks his role with more spastic indignation. He’s thankfully medicated here.

Human drama intrigues me, primarily because as a society, we spend so much time and money trying to avoid, hide, or remedy it. I’m hugely fascinated by our emotions because it’s what makes us human. Without feelings of happiness, sadness, anticipation, or anger, we’re merely mindless automatons seeking to satisfy our most basic instincts.  And a life without complicated human drama just isn’t worth living (despite the amount of angst and 80’s love ballads that it precipitates). And so when I see that drama unfold in a real, unhurried way — as it does in this film — I’m satisfied as an audience member. The payoffs are earned, and there’s not a moment you feel cheated by the sympathy you give each character.

I’d recommend queuing this up on Netflix.

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