There's "never judging a book by its cover", and there's "never judge a movie by its ad line." In the case of "Dan in Real Life", the ad line - "Something's happening to Dan. It's confusing. It's awkward. It's family." - made me cringe, but the movie thankfully didn't (although it wasn't without some issues.) The picture stars Steve Carell as the title character, an advice columnist taking care of his three kids - 17-year-old Jane (Alison Pill), 15-year-old Cara (Brittany Robertson), and the much younger Lilly (Marlene Lawston) - and trying to secure a syndication deal that would bring his column to more markets.
One day, he heads into the bookstore and starts chatting up Marie (Juliette Binoche), who's under the incorrect impression that he works there. The two meet cute and have a nice chat, but he wants to see her again. She gives him her number and he heads back to his parents' (played by John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest) house, where he's staying for the weekend.
However, imagine his surprise when his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook) introduces his new girlfriend...Marie. Still, Marie and Dan have a spark, and the two try their best to explore their feelings under the radar of the rest of the family, who are all piled into the seaside house.
Unfortunately, the film does have a few problems I just couldn't get past. The three daughters are supposed to be "normal teens", but they really seem kinda snotty - and occasionally a little mean - to their father, who is just trying his best. There's also the bizarre casting choice of Binoche, who manages to be an okay pairing with Carell, but seems completely mismatched with Cook.
As for Cook, as much as I think he's all sorts of not funny, he manages to tone it down a little bit and be... not quite as bad. As for performances, Carell is really the best thing about the movie. Offering an enjoyably low-key and sweet performance, Carell's effort here is both effortlessly funny and also really touching at times. The material can be a little hokey (and sometimes more than a little hokey), but Carell does a nice job keeping it grounded. Binoche is a wonderful actress and she tries her best, but she does seem a little out-of-place (I mean, Binoche playing Dane Cook's girlfriend?)
The picture feels a little too comfortable, a little too calm. The picture ends up feeling like the resolutions are a little too smooth and easy, and at 98 minutes, the picture feels like it's on the thin side, and over before it really makes the kind of impression it wanted to make. Still, these flaws aside, I come back to the performances, which are - in most cases, subtle and pleasant. While the material can be a little sitcommy, the performances do lift it a few steps beyond that.
Overall, this was a pleasant enough movie to watch once. The material could have been stronger, but the performances did smooth over some rough spots. Definitely a "rental".
VIDEO: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Miramax. I found this transfer to be average, as sharpness and detail were a little underwhelming, with fine details seeming slightly muddy. Some minor edge enhancement and a trace instance or two of artifacting were also seen. Print flaws were not seen, but the other flaws were a drag on the overall impression of the presentation. Colors remained natural and mostly looked accurately presented. Overall, this was just a so-so presentation.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offered up little in the way of activity, which isn't surprising, given the material. Surrounds were used very infrequently, and only for some minor ambience and occasional reinforcement of the music. Dialogue seemed - at least to my ears - unusually low in the mix, requiring a boost to the volume.
EXTRAS: Director Peter Hedges offers up a reasonably good commentary. While he is a little guilty of narrating the on-screen action at times and spending a little too much time heaping praise, he does offer some good thoughts on working with the cast and insights on the production. "Just Like Family" is a nearly 15-minute "making of" and the shorter "Handmade Music" runs a little under 10 minutes and focuses on the score. 11 minutes of deleted (or alternate) scenes are offered with optional commentary from Hedges. The scenes are enjoyable, but are deleted due mainly to pacing or content (such as the material was repetitive) issues, as Hedges explains in the track. We also get a series of mildly funny outtakes and a hidden addition called "One More?", which is a montage of Carell asking for another take.
Final Thoughts:Overall, this was a pleasant enough movie to watch once. The material could have been stronger, but the performances did smooth over some rough spots. The DVD presentation offers average audio/video quality, but a very nice helping of supplemental features. Recommended as a rental.
The Film B-