There's a deliberate simplicity to Dan in Real Life. In telling the story of an everyday father, director and co-writer Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) constructs an everyday movie. It's a character-driven, family-centric comedy that's post-theatre shelf life will be owed to viewers who just want to watch something "nice." A place for movies like this is welcome, it just comes with a limitation. Dan in Real Life is likable at the price of being unspectacular. It's an easy-going tone at which Hedges mostly excels.
The irony in parenting advice columnist Dan Burns (Steve Carell) wanting the respect of his three daughters sounds obvious. But Carell's familiar performance takes on new depth. A single widower whose loneliness is amplified during a Rhode Island family reunion, Dan's displacement is invisible to everyone but himself. When Dan falls for Marie (Juliette Binoche), who he'll soon discover is the girlfriend of his younger brother (Dane Cook), at a bookstore, the scene builds a clever charm the movie could use more often.
Whenever Hedges gets cute with sitcom embarrassments and children sermonizing about love, he undercuts the film's clear-eyed look at the friction between independence and family. It's a slight endeavour, told with honest insight.
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