Dan in Real Life (6/10):
Dan Burns (Steve
Carrell) is a high-minded advice columnist who is the widowed father of
three young daughters, 8-year old Lily (Marlene Lawston), 15-year-old
Cara (Brittany Robertson), and 17-year-old Jane (Alison Pitt). The two
older daughters have problems with Dan. Cara has the hots for a boy she
has known for three days, and Jane wants to drive. Dan dampers both of
their desires, much to their dismay. He implies to Cara that she can’t
be “in love” with someone she has only known three days, a reasonable
position for a father to take with a 15-year-old daughter. At this point
I’m thinking that this is a movie with a good premise, showing a father
giving proper discipline to his children. But director, co-writer Peter
Hedges has other ideas in mind.
They are invited to
a family get-together in Rhode Island at their parents (John Mahoney
from TV’s Frasier and Dianne Wiest). His young daughters are
Dan has lived a
sexually cloistered life since the death of his wife. When he goes to
the library after their arrival in Rhode Island, he meets a hot chick,
Marie (Juliette Binoche), and falls for her. She reluctantly gives him
her phone number. Returning to the family compound, he reveals to his
family that he’s met someone he really likes. Before he can tell more,
his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook), enters and introduces them all to his
new girlfriend, who turns out to be Marie.
That sets the stage
for what is apparently intended as a screwball comedy, as Dan and Marie
are so attracted to one another that Marie knows she is not going to
continue with Mitch, whom she has only known for three weeks (sound
familiar? What is young Cara thinking?). Dan, in turn, is in a quandary.
He’s a high-principled advice columnist. How does he handle this
Here’s where Hedges
sets the stage to paint Dan as a hypocrite in the eyes of Cara. How can
he be in love with someone he has only known for a few minutes, and how
can Mitch and Marie be in love when they’ve only known each other three
weeks, but she can’t be in love with someone she’s known three days? So,
from a movie that looked as if it was going to be a paean to a good
father being properly strict and caring about his daughters, goes
instead to exhibiting his caring for his daughter’s best interest as
being “do as I say, not as I do.” But what can we expect from Hollywood?
It’s just asking too much that it show a father in a good light and as a
good role model.
This movie isn’t
awful. It started out as a spec script by Pierce Gardner based on his
personal experiences. Hedges, who wrote “About A Boy,” which I thought
was the best film of 2003, was brought in to doctor the script but liked
it so much he wanted to direct. I have no way of knowing if Hedges
improved the script or made it worse. But what I do know is that, while
it has a sweet charm, it didn’t work for me.
The Burns family is
impossibly Ozzie and Harriet-lite. It’s as if Ozzie Nelson is guiding
every move of every character. Carrell didn’t capture the perplexity at
which Dennis O’Keefe was a master. Similarly, Hedges isn’t up to the
quality of the screwball comedy directors of the ‘30s and ‘40s, people
like Preston Sturges and Alan Dwan. The situations are so contrived that
the humor is often lost. There are smiles where there could have been
guffaws. That’s due, in most part, to Hedges’ direction and Carrell’s
acting. I also felt that Binoche botches the role of Marie, the girl who
finds herself in the middle of a chaotic family and an impossible
romantic triangle. She’s there; she’s pretty; that’s about it for her.
She adds virtually nothing to the comedic potential of the film. The
only person who was at home with the situation was Cook who carried off
his role as the cuckolded boyfriend in a way that would have made
Sturges and Dwan proud.
Contrasted with Binoche’s relatively inept performance is the delightful
Emily Blunt, who plays Ruthie Draper with whom Dan is fixed up. I
thought Blunt stole the show in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and
she’s the best thing in this film, too. She was the only other actor in
the film, along with Cook, who appeared at home in a screwball comedy.
Anybody who would pick Marie over Ruthie needs to have his head (or
something) examined. This would have been a much better film had Binoche
and Blunt changed roles.
Even though I
squirmed a lot, I found myself enjoying it more than not. It’s just that
it could have been so much better.
October 25, 2007