That title is a huge misnomer.
Dan does not live in real life. Maybe his resembles a real life, but it’s not. He’s a widower, father of three daughters, hopelessly in love with his brother’s girlfriend and a successful columnist steeped with upper-middle-class struggles of dealing with family. You know, he’s just another guy dealing with “real life.”
Right. Few will relate to Dan and his faux travails, and “Dan in Real Life” is a dishonest dramedy that fails on this basic level. Set amid a family reunion in Rhode Island, the film features the exploits of Dan Burns (the immensely affable Steve Carell). Before the gathering, Dan runs into an attractive woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche, “Chocolat”) and becomes completely infatuated with her. The problem is that Marie is already dating Dan’s brother Mitch (Dane Cook, “Good Luck Chuck”). Oh, the rapture.
What follows is an extended series of “quirky” contrivances worthy of a mediocre sitcom. The family is just too cute and sappy. The guys play against the girls in family crossword challenges. The family finds meaning during their talent show. All arguments end with a healthy chat with Mom, Dad and every other family member. Everybody is keen on aerobics, crafts and other silly and meaningless events. It’s “The Family Stone,” only worse.
By adding such unbelievable and insincere filler, the filmmakers rely too heavily on void minutiae. When Dan first meets Marie and they bond over coffee, a muffin and talk about popular books, it’s not poignant. It’s coffee, muffins and books. Nothing more.
There are some warmer moments. Dan’s interactions with his middle daughter are surprisingly touching. At one point, his daughter (Brittany Robertson, “CSI”) sneaks a boy out to the cabin for some necking, just to be discovered by Dan. They fight, and in the process, Dan indirectly reveals his feelings for Marie while citing examples on the difficulty of love. The daughter smiles and replies, “So he can stay?”
Little, understated moments like these keep the film bearable. But a few pleasant moments in an otherwise soapy film do not a good movie make.
The true letdown of “Dan in Real Life” is Carell himself. The beloved lead from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” can now say he’s having something of an off year with this and “Evan Almighty.” Exuding a kind of insecure charm, Carell can usually take almost any scene and make you want to watch it. At first, Dan makes you feel that way. But by the end of “Dan in Real Life,” you won’t care about his life at all.
Dan in Real Life
At Quality 16 and Showcase
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars