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Review

Reviewers divided on Carell movie ‘Dan in Real Life’

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November 1, 2007

I like to review films with all the fairness I can muster, both as a critic and a fan, taking on each movie — no matter how lame — with at least some semblance of hope. However, regarding “Dan in Real Life,” you’ll be hearing more from the latter fella than the former. My critic persona is currently lying bruised in a ditch outside of Woodbury.

After slogging his way through “Evan Almighty” this past summer, Steve Carell continues his cinematic losing streak with this hamfisted dramedy. Carell plays Dan Burns, a popular advice columnist who’s had a mighty hard time raising his three daughters during the four years following his wife’s death. Luckily, the time has come for Dan to pack up his brood and head out for a beachfront get-together with the rest of his family.

Dan’s world gets a bit brighter when he runs into a beauty named Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a bookstore and virtually falls head over heels in love after a few moments of chit-chat — until he returns home to find that she’s his brother’s new girlfriend.

Although Dan’s hands are already full with a trio of kids who all want a little breathing room, his affection for Marie has him torn between letting sleeping dogs lie and doing something to better himself for once.

It’s ironic that “Dan in Real Life” is titled as such, because a story this soapy could only exist in Hollywood. Movies aren’t supposed to be the pinnacle of realism, but the aura of phony-baloney happiness projected on the screen here is enough to make you vomit.

Although ripe with the potential to deliver some hard-hitting and emotional family interactions, the film offers nauseating distractions such as random exercises in the front yard, crossword puzzle competitions and, in a scene more ghastly than anything “Saw IV” dished out, a family talent show. The Burns clan makes the Brady Bunch look like a bunch of degenerates.

Even if you shove the problems mentioned above to the side, “Dan in Real Life” comes across as a misfired slice of seriocomedy, albeit one probably made with the best of intentions. As always, Carell remains an intensely likable performer who struggles like a champ to earn the audience’s sympathy, despite plot contrivances exploding around him like depth charges.

The lovely Binoche is an actress who’s impossible to make look bad, be it by way of a bad hair day or a lousy script. But, alas, the romantic conflict stems from a wholly unconvincing “meet cute” scenario, while Dan’s hypocritical daughters are veritable slaves to screenplay, acting as spiteful as can be one moment and being sugary-sweet whenever the story demands them to be happy.

I’m not saying a tale like “Dan in Real Life” could never work, for look at all the other comedic dramas out there that have managed to balance laughs and life lessons just fine. But instead of solving its characters’ various neuroses, “Dan in Real Life” inspires a set of new ones for its viewers. If Woody Allen had a grave, he’d be spinning in it right now.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.