It has been a while since I've seen an actor single-handedly elevate merely fair material with a transcendental performance.Steve Carell
is the Dan of Real Life, and his touching turn as an unassuming newspaper columnist and father of three girls exists on a level above the film's perfectly acceptable cast -- no small feat considering that Dianne Wiest
, John Mahoney
, and Juliette Binoche
contribute to the ensemble.
So far, the comedian has displayed a knack for sharp sarcasm (Evan Almighty
) and incredible obliviousness (NBC's The Office). He adds earnestness, warmth, and pathos to his repertoire as he carries this contrived yet charming romantic comedy regarding multiple generations of parents and their children. Article continues below
Director Peter Hedges
' goal is to establish a complicated love triangle, though it requires a rather large leap of faith on our part. While assisting his siblings in winterizing their parents' cabin, Dan meets beautiful stranger Marie (Binoche) in a neighborhood bookstore. They playfully flirt, agree to share a muffin, and spend the afternoon conversing. Yet she fails to mention either why she is in the area or that she has a boyfriend... who happens to be Dan's brother, Mitch (Dane Cook
Such developments normally leave "coincidence" in the rear view as we speed on toward "impossible," but Dan rebounds nicely. Hedges demonstrated in his small but sweet debut Pieces of April that he can maneuver through dysfunctional family humor. He has a tendency in Dan to repeat his jokes -- the same cop pulls Dan over repeatedly, and the dryer in his makeshift bedroom clunks along like a bum punch line hitting the pavement.
But the comforting glow of a gathered family warms Dan from within, and the coincidences melt away as Wiest, Mahoney, Binoche, and co-star Emily Blunt
bring needed flavor. Sure, Hedges might be making a basic peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich of a feature, but he cuts the crusts off the white bread because he knows that's how we like it.