Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Dan in Real Life

Film #280


A widower finds out the woman he fell in love with is his brother’s girlfriend.

Year 1, Day 284

BEFORE: Scheduling is still a bit messed up as I juggle this movie marathon along with everything else I’m trying to keep track of right now. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I watched Date Night last night but published the review this afternoon. But in trying to catch up (I’m currently four films behind) I’ll be watching Dan in Real Life today and hopefully also publishing the review. Dan in Real Life completes this subchain of Steve Carell films as well as the first batch of comedy films. Starting tomorrow will be my Hayao Miyazaki chain featuring most of his films. But for now, Steve Carell and hopefully a lot of laughs.

AFTER: Where do I begin? There is just so much about this film that I liked. From the characters to the premise, and oh yeah, the characters. Dan in Real Life was not only funny but also very revealing - relationship and emotional wise - in the way that the dialogue is very astute and wise. Something that’s almost expected when the main character, Dan Burns (Steve Carell), is an advice columnist, whose job it is to write said enlightening tidbits.

As with Date Night yesterday, a lot relies on your connection with the characters. This film does a great job early on showing everyone and setting up the environment extremely well. You get a lot from small visual clues and subtext in the scene and it’s not dependent on exposition. But how can I say why I like the characters so much besides saying their good? Part of the reason is I just felt a strong connection, especially with Dan. There were so many parts of me I saw in his character that it was like watching my story unfold on the screen (albeit minus the fact that I’m not 50 years old nor have any kids). Another large reason is the chemistry between the characters. It wasn’t just the individuals you could connect with, it was also the family as a whole that was highly realistic, so much so it’s like placing a camera in the middle of this family getaway.

But what makes this film special? Why do I like it so much? For that let’s look to the story. As I mentioned earlier, a driving force of the film is the fact that Dan is an advice columnist and throughout the film he’s tasked with the challenge of giving advice and the repercussions of not following it himself. It shows both sides to pretty much everyone in the Burns family: the smart and pleasing side as well as the mean and confrontational side. Nobody is perfect and this is clearly seen in this film. You don’t like these characters because they’re all good; you like them because they seem like real people that have bad parts with the good. And this is all the other main driving force of the film which is the love-triangle between Dan, his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), and Marie Diamond (Juliette Binoche) and the animosity that arises between Dan and Mitch and it is slowly revealed that both are interested in Marie.

The closing line in the film is provided through voice over as Dan reads from one of his columns. He says, “So instead of asking our young people, ‘What do you plan to do with your life?’, maybe we should tell them this: ‘Plan to be surprised.’” I can honestly say that going into this film I wasn’t expecting that much. It seemed interesting and with some big names behind the project I could have guessed it would be ok. But the characterization and development in addition to a great, interesting story, really took me by surprise. Dan in Real Life makes it onto my five-star list and earns a place on the list of my favorite films, one I will be watching again in the future. It’s a funny, smart, and sweet film, and one which I recommend you see.

RATING: 5 out of 5