U.S. Release Date: October 26, 2007
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Peter Hedges
Writer: Pierce Gardner, Peter Hedges
Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Dianne Wiest, Emily Blunt, Amy Ryan
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some innuendo)

Actors Charm in Family Fare
by Scott Holleran

Disney's Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carell is a perfectly modest life comedy that does what it sets out to do. Neither as wry as Little Miss Sunshine nor as sentimental as The Family Stone, though in the same vein as those excellent movies, writer and director Peter Hedges' second directorial effort bounces merrily along, hitting the sweet spot.

Of course, Hedges wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape, so you know you're in for another slow skewering of middle-class family values, which is exactly what he delivers and more. Here, we have widower Dan (Carell in another straight, strong performance) and his three daughters. They're wonderfully unique.

Dan the dad lacks parenting skills, which his adorable girls know and accept at every turn, letting him fumble his way through puppy love, the desire to drive and the particularly sensitive needs of the bright, creative youngest child, who may need a mother the most. Dan will have to do.

The girls go along with that, piling into the family station wagon—minus the hood ornament—for the annual family reunion. One of the enjoyable things about this movie is its unbridled enthusiasm in depicting a healthy, happy family, a unit that is nearly nonexistent in movies. Another is that Dan, tellingly, is never an object for ridicule, as against most movie dads.

On the contrary, Carell's ability to portray subtle kindness comes through in every scene. This boosts the occasionally pat script, especially as writer Dan and the girls participate in extended family events, and Dan in Real Life is ideal for Thanksgiving viewings; it makes you want to get out and play football with the whole gang. The relatives include John Mahoney (Frasier's dad) and Dianne Wiest (Edward Scissorhands) as Dan's parents and Dane Cook (Good Luck Chuck) as his brother.

That brother is key to the slim plot. As Dan struggles with mourning the loss of his wife, raising three children and advancing in his career, he happens to meet the most vivacious woman in the world. Juliette Binoche as Marie is the movie's greatest asset. The Chocolat beauty exudes female confidence as everyone's favorite new girlfriend. The problem is she belongs to Dan's brother.

Or does she? That, of course, is up to her and Miss Binoche has her way with the part, the movie and everyone in it. She has the thing wrapped around her pinky, including Dan, whose attraction to Marie springs him back to life and serves as the catalyst to awakening his best within. As the two navigate the awkward situation, Carell and Miss Binoche play off one another, from the bathtub to the bowling alley.

The result is an emotional, short story-like slice of light humor that is positively absent of guilt. Watching Dan's family play, cook, eat, read, practice and enjoy one another's company is worth the ticket price alone. For Dan's part, he's the type that looks away during his time with Marie when she has to take an unexpected phone call; he's utterly polite and considerate.

Too much so, apparently, which must of course come unraveled and that is the fun foil of this wispy little picture. "Plan to be surprised," Dan in Real Life suggests with an air of mischief, and it is indeed a pleasant surprise.

Reign Over Me
Misguided Men Take Manhattan
Little Miss Sunshine
A Light Humorous Take on Dysfunctional Family
Must Love Dogs
A Limerick for the Dating Game
The Weather Man
Awaken the Weatherman Within
The Family Stone
A Warm and Funny Family Christmas
Evan Almighty
Religious Sequel Sinks in Sanctimony