Dan in Real Life

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Dan in Real Life
Review (7.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

If you had asked me, in 2005, whether The 40-Year-Old Virgin would have been named one of the year's top ten films by the American Film Institute, and whether it would have made a little-known comic named Steve Carell a star, my answer would have been, "not likely". Fast forward two years and, lo and behold, not only is Steve Carell a star, but he has achieved a star power that will soon eclipse that of his frequent co-star, Will Ferrell.

It is hard not to like Steve Carell. Unlike Ferrell who, using his comedic false machismo, has developed an alter ego that people either love or hate to watch on screen, Carell possesses that esoteric "everyman" quality that is more reminiscent of Tom Hanks or Jack Lemmon. We look at Steve Carell and see a bit of ourselves - and it is this very quality that has made him an unstoppable force in Hollywood.

I have watched the meteoric rise of Steve Carell's career with fascination and with a bit of delight. I love a Cinderella story and, from all that I have seen of him, if someone was going to get to wear that glass slipper, it could not happen to a nicer guy than Steve Carell. And, with that in mind, I was as anxious as anyone to see Dan in Real Life, the latest chapter in Carell's ever-growing film story.

Dan in Real Life tells the story of Dan Burns (Carell), a newspaper advice columnist trying to raise three daughters following the untimely death of his wife. While attending a family reunion, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), the first woman to engage him since his tragic loss. After discovering that she, too, is attending the reunion as the guest of his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook), he goes to amusing lengths to extinguish his flames of passion, only to discover that real life is not quite as simple as it appears on the written page.

About a half hour into this film, I began to have small doubts about whether it was deserving of the hype that I was reading about it. Sure, it was light and amusing, but it by no means reached the bar set by Carell's "Little Miss Sunshine". Just as I was about to write this film off as a piece of fluff, Juliette Binoche appeared, a palpable romantic chemistry emerged, and suddenly I found myself watching the best romantic comedy of the year.

Above all else, it is the performances of Carell and Binoche that distinguishes Dan in Real Life from the countless other romantic comedies that are unleashed upon unsuspecting film audiences every year. Other films are sweet, but leave you with the feeling that you have eaten cotton candy rather than the box of Godiva chocolates that you were promised in the previews. Much like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Carell and Binoche have that certain, "je ne sais quoi" that makes their romance seem credible and that causes the depth of their emotion to emanate from the screen. The audience not only watches them act, but feels the joy, the yearning and the pain of their characters.

Dan in Real Life also lays to rest any doubt that Steve Carell can act. He is one of a handful of actors who can wear the full spectrum of emotions in his eyes. He can be a slapstick clown one minute, and a witty, insightful humourist the next. I suspect that he could easily make the transition to dramatic acting, following in the footsteps of Hanks and Lemmon, and I, for one, hope that Hollywood will give him that chance.

While by no means the best film that I have seen this year, Dan in Real Life is far and away the best romantic comedy that I have seen this year. It is the perfect film for hopeless romantics, and for the hopeless romantics who love them. And for the rest of us, it is the perfect way to escape from the snow, and the trials and tribulations of our own "real life".

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