Friday, July 03, 2009

Movie review: "Dan in Real Life"

Yeah, I know this is old. But we rarely go to a theater and we only get one Netflix movie at a time, so my queue rolls along slowly.

"Dan in Real Life" stars Steve Carrell as a newspaper columnist, giving parental advice. He is the father of three girls (17, 14ish, and 9) and has been a widower for four years.

So, what does Dan have in common with me? Well, first name Ds, check. Three daughters, check (and striking similar age differentials as well). Widower . . . um, nope. But, he definitely was in love with his wife (check!) and hasn't been able to get on with things since her death.

The movie began with me watching his interaction with his daughters and I really was struck with how similar it might (?) be for me in a few more years--minus, again, the dead wife bit. His middle daughter is the passionate one, full of angry yells, rapid fire justifications, and constant worry. I laughed wryly through much of the first thirty minutes.

But the movie is about how he takes his girls to the yearly family get together in Rhode Island. And what a family! Imagine the upper middle class Kennedy clan, thrown in with movie magic and a dash of the Big Chill and you've got it. This is the sort of family that switches from charades to dueling crossword puzzles to family talent show night to touch football on the lawn with hardly a blink. Activity, good cheer, laughter, and getting up in everyone else's business (with love!) is required.

Only in a movie, right?

Well, the crisis of the movie is what happens when Dan's chance encounter in a book store confuses the whole weekend and results in madcap romance that hasn't been seen since, I think, A Mid-Summer Night's Dream. (Shakespeare nerds, read the play, see the movie and then tell me if I got that reference right.)

I wanted to say that the movie's conflict was simply drawer #45 of the chest of drawers of movie contrivances. And, I'm right. But the actors and the fun and the simpleness of the movie won me over in the end. Sure, all is wrapped up in a nice, tight bow (another Only In A Movie moment, to be sure), but it is a happy journey to get to the bow. At first I lamented the opportunity to see a movie about a man struggling to live with three challenging girls and see what that might be. I resented the movie-generated coincidences and reconciliations that made it more artificial. But then, as I said, I let its charm work on me.

If I didn't want a bit of escapism, I'm sure Jack T. could recommend several grim documentaries about much less cheerful things.

I recommend it. Carrell did a very good job being ordinary and not at all slapstick. Rent it.

Best line in movie (to me) delivered from youngest daughter to Dan--"You're a really good Father but sometimes you're a really bad Dad."

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