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Dan in Real Life (2007)

Touchstone Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/29/2008

Time and place are elements which can often be overlooked in a movie. Of course, if you are watching a period piece, or a science-fiction film, time and place are difficult to ignore. But, most movies take place in the present and in some city (usually New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles), and we often ignore the time and place. Dan in Real Life could have easily been that type of film. And yet, this quiet dramedy makes its location and the amount of time which we spend at that location part of the story, and thus we set off on a quaint, fun journey.

Steve Carell stars in Dan in Real Life as Dan Burns. Dan writes an advice column called (oddly enough) "Dan in Real Life". He's a widower who is raising his three daughters -- Jane (Alison Pill), Cara (Brittany Robertson), and Lilly (Marlene Lawston) by himself. Jane, the oldest, is yearning for responsibility and wants to begin driving, Cara, the middle child, claims to be in love with the paperboy, and Lilly, the youngest, just wants to be a kid. Dan takes the girls to Rhode Island for the annual family reunion, where his parents and siblings spend a last weekend at their beach house. Dan arrives and is greeted by his parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Weist), and his brothers, Mitch (Dane Cook) and Clay (Norbert Leo Butz). When Dan ventures out for a newspaper, he meets an enchanting woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche) and they spend the afternoon talking. But, Marie must leave and Dan returns to the beach house...to find that Marie is Mitch's girlfriend. Now, Dan is trapped for the weekend with his overbearing and eccentric family and with the woman of his dreams. To make matters worse, Dan is informed that his column has a chance to go nationwide.

Dan in Real Life is an interesting film in that it deftly mixes several genres, but we never feel as if where watching a "mish-mash" movie. The way in which Dan meets and falls for Marie, only to learn that she's with his brother would be right at home in any screwball romantic-comedy. The warm yet slightly dysfunctional setting of the Burns' family summer retreat plays more like an ensemble movie, and the relationships between the siblings, their spouses, and the parents reminded me a great deal of the show Brothers & Sisters. The relationships between Dan and his daughters has more of a serious note, and it had the feel of an indie film. Yet, director Peter Hedges, working from a screenplay on which he shares credit with Pierce Gardner, is able to seamlessly weave all of this together to the point that not only is it cohesive, it never feels episodic. The film maintains a nice serio-comic balance -- there are laugh out loud moments, as well as quite, touching ones.

This seamless genre hopping works well with the characters in the film. Taking a cue from the title, all of the characters in the film feel real. The most "real" character here is Dan himself. This lonely widower makes a living giving advice to others, yet his life spins out of control at times. (Thankfully, this point isn't beaten to death.) Carell plays the role fairly straight, a makes Dan a character which we instantly like. Even Dane Cook (whom I happen to find funny) tones down his normally energetic schtick and makes Mitch an average guy. While all of the ensemble cast are good, they all stick to the theme of being average and no one really hogs the spotlight. In what may be the ultimate example of the "real" in Dan in Real Life, the family holds a talent show (a family tradition), and while it's entertaining, no one is abnormally gifted or awful (and thus distracting from the rest of the film). How many movies would be able to contain themselves in that way?

I rarely (if ever) use the word "sweet" when describing a movie, but that's an appropriate term for Dan in Real Life. The movie presents us with realistic characters who are in a simple situation. The romance between Dan and Marie may have that Hollywood "they just met and they're already in love" air about it, but Dan's feelings towards Marie come off as genuine and we feel a need for this man to have some happiness in his life. The movie could have easily gotten out of hand, but the fact that it simply takes place over two days in the family retreat gives Hedges a specific realm in which to set the proceedings. The movie may come off as too quiet for some -- we can essentially hear Carell and Cook holding themselves back -- but there are still some very funny moments here and this may be the perfect remedy for those who want a romantic-comedy that doesn't fall too far into the "chick flick" or fairy-tale world.

Dan in Real Life gives advice to DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a nice transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. One must get very close to the screen to see any grain. The image shows no defects from the source material. However, even when one considers the overall muted look of the film, this transfer is somewhat dark. The image is stable, but there is some slight blurring and video noise at times. The colors look fine and realistic. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the fact that this is a surround sound track, most of the audio comes from the front and center channels. Even the music cues remain in the front channels. There are some ambient surround sound effects during some exterior scenes.

The Dan in Real Life DVD contains a few bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Peter Hedges, who speaks at length throughout the film. He does hesitate and backtrack at times, but otherwise, he gives a scene specific talk. He discusses the story, the characters, the actors and the locations. He's quick to point out minute details, especially those which concern how the location often dictated the action. "Just Life Family: The Making of Dan in Real Life" (15 minutes) contains many comments from the Peter Hedges and the cast. Hedges talks about the script and how he interjected items from his real life into it. The actors discuss their experiences working with Hedges. The piece also examines the house used in the film. In "Handmade Music: Creating the Score" (10 minutes), Hedges explains how he didn't want to music to overwhelm the film. We then learn more about musician Sondre Lerche, who created the score. The Disc contains 11 DELETED SCENES which run about 20 minutes and can be viewed with commentary by Hedges. There's nothing spectacular here, and it's clear that most were cut for time. However, the scene with Steve Carell at the kid's table must be seen...unless you have a weak stomach. The 3 minutes of OUTTAKES contain some funny moments from Carell and Dane Cook.

Touchstone Home Entertainment has also brought Dan in Real Life to Blu-ray Disc. Again the film is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the disc has a AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. This is a very good transfer, as the image is exceedingly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects. The image has a very nice depth, and the landscape shots look great. The colors are notably good, especially the greens. Quick on-screen action produces no shimmering or blurring. I detected no artifacting or distortion. The audio on the disc is a Linear PCM 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and 4.6 Mbps. Again, this is a very quite film, and even with a track like this, we don't get much more than the dialogue, which sounds fine. The score sound very nice and there is one door-slamming sequence which reminds us that the audio is surround sound.

The extra on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long