Sunday, December 09, 2007

Real life should be so good...

Dan in Real Life
Three stars out of Four

During the year I spent as movie critic for the school paper at USU, I learned one thing: it’s a lot harder to write a review of a good movie than a bad one. Luckily I had plenty of bad movies to review that year, and in those cases the challenge was to reign in the bitter disdain I felt after watching them. But when movies like “Big Fish”, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “Master and Commander” came along, I just didn’t have much to say.

“Dan in Real Life” was a great movie. I loved everything from the actors to the setting to the soundtrack to the story itself. I loved the running gags and the attention to detail that can make a funny movie into a classic movie. I loved Steve Carell’s portrayal of an everyman you can genuinely feel for, and totally forgive for his faults because you know he doesn’t have a vindictive bone in his body. I loved the fact that the film was about good people trying to do the right thing in spite of themselves.

Very simply, “Dan in Real Life” is about a widower columnist (Carell) who leaves the city with his three daughters to spend a weekend with his extended family. Along the way he meets an amazing woman (Juliette Binoche), who just happens to be his brother’s girlfriend.

I have no idea how to deal with the women I know who are my own age, yet Carell’s character has to raise two teenage daughters and a fourth grader who is wise beyond her years, all by himself. None of them see eye to eye, and these strained relationships only exacerbate the insanity he feels from having to hear the rest of his family go on and on about how great his brother’s girlfriend is. It’s a circumstance that provides a legion of genuine laughs, most of which are painful at the same time.

Through the film, I found myself placing Carell in the same category with Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler; namely that I quickly tire of their unbridled zany humor and enjoy them much more when their wit comes through the behavior of more grounded characters. Think “Man on the Moon” and “Spanglish”. I’m sure many will disagree, but that’s the point, right?

My gripes with the film are few. Even though the family is portrayed to be very blue-collar and down to earth, somehow the family patriarch and his wife maintain a mega-cabin on the Eastern seaboard, and even after thirty years in Utah, I have still never encountered a family that cycles through so many “activities” in such a short time.

Actually, my biggest gripe comes towards the end of the film when Dan breaks down and asks his daughters to forgive him for being such a lousy dad. It’s a gripe because he has nothing to apologize for. Dan may be far from perfect—after all, where else is the humor going to come from—but most kids would be lucky to have a parent that cared as much as he does.

When I walked into the theater last night, I cringed to fork over $8.25 to see this movie. When I left, I figured I’ll gladly hand over $15 in six months to buy it on DVD.

“Dan in Real Life” is rated PG-13 for some language, some vulgar/racy bits and this really unbelievable scene where the whole family does an aerobic workout in the front yard to Earth, Wind and Fire.