Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Movie Review: "Dan in Real Life"

Steve Carell has made a name for himself playing naive, sometimes buffoonish, characters. His Michael Scott on the show The Office truly thinks everyone should be his friend. His character in The 40 Year-Old Virgin Andy just didn't want to think about sex. And Brick in Anchorman? Nevermind.

But Carell can also bring the pathos and portray the more realistic roles well. We saw it in Little Miss Sunshine, where Carell played a suicidal gay man. And in Dan in Real Life, he plays a quiet widower just trying to survive without getting too heavy handed. He doesn't overact, never bringing out the trademark Carell yell. When the plot has him falling in love with his brother's new girlfriend, when his mood shifts from puppy love to anger, it all seems natural.

The girlfriend Marie, played by Juliette Binoche, falls in love with Dan over his brother Mitch (played by Dane Cook). Their interplay, with Marie flirting back happily, doesn't seem forced and for awhile it seems like Marie is having a lot of fun while Dan is in misery about betraying his brother. Cook actually acts pretty well in this movie, playing a low-key guy who believes he is in love with Marie and is almost the tragic figure in the story. Except, of course, at the end, where there is some sort of vague ending about how he has moved on, but that ending doesn't spoil the entire movie.

The only drawback of the movie is Dan's three daughters. They are really more like roles than characters, as there is the older understanding one, the middle rebel, and the devoted youngest. The movie basically sets these characters up to first serve as a foil and then serve as signposts of Dan's downfall when the movie needs a climax. In fact, the middle child, with her rants against Dan is mostly annoying than cute.

Overall, this movie shows that Carell is a more than capable actor and he can carry his own as a leading man in a romantic comedy.

3 1/2 Carell Half-Smiles out of 5.

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