Steve Carell’s best film performance to date can be found in the fitfully engaging Dan In Real Life, where his long-suffering persona suits a character who lets his long-dormant hopes rise for a moment, only to be shot down again. Carell plays Dan Burns, a newspaper columnist who writes about family issues and relationships.
As a widower with three growing girls to raise, however, the difference between Dan’s printed wisdom and his struggles with fatherhood and loneliness is often vast. He’s put to a severe test when he packs up the kids for a cabin holiday with his parents and siblings, then falls for the exotic, if elusive, Marie (Juliette Binoche) during a solo excursion to a bookstore. Stirred by a woman for the first time since his late wife, Dan is shocked to find that Marie is actually dating his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), and that she’ll be spending the vacation with him in the midst of his family. From that point, the script, co-written by director Peter Hedges (Pieces of April), pretty much becomes a parade of difficult circumstances under which both Dan and Marie have to keep their attraction to one another secret. Certain scenes work better than others, but there is an overall monotony to the movie that isn’t helped by a lack of onscreen chemistry between Binoche and Carell. Both actors are fine on their own terms, but whatever is supposed to be clicking between Marie and Dan isn’t compelling enough to make one truly care that they get together somehow. Still, this is a film with plenty of moments to like, especially when Carell gets to broaden his previous range of emotions in a movie. --Tom Keogh
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