Running Time: 98 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (infrequent coarse language)
Writer director Peter Hedges has written some very humane films: What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Pieces of April (which he also directed). Dan in Real Life is in that vein.
The film is a star vehicle for Steve Carell who has proven his comic talents in TV's The Office as well as his funny turn in Bruce Almighty. He has starred in The Forty Year Old Virgin and was Evan Almighty.
This time he is a widower who still grieves for his wife after four years. He is also finding difficulties in raising his three daughters. Jane the oldest is desperate for a driving licence but Dan fears accidents. Cara, the 15 year old is desperately in love with a classmate and Dan dismisses it as an infatuation. Lily, the youngest, is not desperate but rather is a study pillar for her father. Dan in Real Life is the column he writes for a paper, giving advice on family problems. He is about to be syndicated nationally.
So far, so good and bad. He packs up with the girls to drive to the extended annual family reunion. This family has to be seen to be believed - and serve as an encouragement that the family that plays together stays together. There are the three generations, about fifteen in all - and they enjoy one another's company.
Enter Marie. Dan has already encountered her in a book shop and, over a cup of coffee, has poured out his life story to her. Her arrival upsets him. He tries to keep his emotions under control but an unpleasant and rude side of his character emerges. Dan has difficulty coping with real life.
Juliette Binoche seems to relish the relaxed atmosphere of the film and having time off from her more serious roles. John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest are the ideal grandparents. Dane Cook is sympathetic as the wronged brother and Emily Blunt has a cameo as a brash doctor.
But, despite the heavier overtones, the film is light, entertaining - something of a 'if only the world could be more like this' kind of romantic comedy.
Icon Film Out February 14
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting