A Thanksgiving family gathering becomes a romantic battleground for widower Steve Carell in this pleasant, if dismayingly contrived frolic, heavily reliant on its leading man’s ability to convey repressed sexuality with an amiable charm. Carell’s Dan Burns dispenses parenting advice in his newspaper column, but proves as hapless as any father bringing up three girls on his own, and has retired to the sidelines of the dating game for so long that the rest of his extended clan view him with pity. Then, of course, it happens. He falls for irresistibly lovely and intelligent Juliette Binoche during a bookstore encounter, only to return to his folks’ house and discover she’s already an item with his fitness-instructor brother (Dane Cook).
Since assorted siblings, partners and sprogs occupy every inch of floor space, while communal meals and planned jollity fill most waking hours, the would-be couple’s illicit manoeuvrings are played for effectively awkward comedy. With Diane Wiest presiding as mater familias, the ghost of Woody Allen haunts these upscale surroundings, but the script’s propensity for neatly resolving emotional issues via farcical set-pieces pitches rather closer towards synthetic Steve Martin territory. Indeed, loading the dice in favour of Carell (we don’t buy hang-loose Binoche and laddish funnyman Cook for a micro-second), and stringing everything along to Sondre Lerche’s gratingly twee acoustic ditties, the movie too often opts for sugar-coating over high-fibre. A shame really, since its underlying point about parents not reneging on their own happiness for the sake of their offspring is touchingly true. Smoothly entertaining fare, but with a bit more nerve it could have been so much more.