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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: 10/26/2007
Reviewed by Martha K. Baker
The plot summaries for Dan in Real Life describe a widower who falls for a woman at a bookstore and then he discovers that she's his brother's new girlfriend. It sounds so sitcommy. But this plot is co-written by Peter Hedges, who also directed. Hedges also directed and wrote the screenplay for Pieces of April, that luminous movie about Thanksgiving, and the screenplays for About a Boy and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Here's someone who knows families and presents them in promisingly unmediocre methods. We can trust him.
Dan Burns is a widower and father of three daughters. He's properly protective as befits a single parent and the columnist of advice to the lovelorn. He gathers up his girls to go to Cape Cod for a big family weekend. When Dan goes to the Book and Tackle bookstore for a newspaper, he meets Marie. He flirts, something he hasn't done in a long time and is a little rusty at but is still fluid enough to enchant her. That is, until they meet again as his brother introduces the same woman to the whole family as his new girlfriend.

You know that Dan and Marie are going to end up together, but you sure enjoy watching the journey to togetherness. Good acting, good writing, and good directing satisfy every need to see these two happy.

The cast is outstanding, beginning with that darling Steve Carell, who made a name for himself on The Daily Show and has gone on to star in The Office, an exercise in irony. But in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Dan in Real Life, Carell proves his range as a comic actor. He's just perfect as Dan, a little bit doofus and a lot adorable and gentlemanly. Juliette Binoche as Marie shows a comic self unevidenced in movies like Breaking and Entering.

The Burns parents are played by veterans John Mahoney (the father on Frasier) and Dianne Wiest, and Dan's brothers are played by the sinuous Dane Cook and the Hobbit-like Norbert Leo Butz. The actors playing Dan Burns' daughters are a treat: Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson and Marlene Lawston. And Emily Blunt, so muted in The Jane Austen Book Club, is a good diversion.

Peter Hedges' direction makes sure that the large family tumbles around like puppies and captures Dan and Marie's dilemma as both farce and real. Dan in Real Life is packed with loving detail - note the sandwich-making - as well as with good insight. At one point, one of Dan's daughters declare that he is a good father but a bad dad, a distinction that Peter Hedges shows as well as tells so well in Dan in Real Life.

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