We’ve seen Steve Carell do goofy romantic (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), but can he handle a role that’s simply romantic? Dan in Real Life aims to convince viewers that the comedian’s amiable doofus persona earmarks him to be the next Tom Hanks (something preferable to, God help us, the next Jim Carrey). A nice-guy widower who pens an advice column, Dan (Carell) connects with a woman (Binoche) in a bookstore. Later, during the annual extended-family vacation, he’s introduced to the new girlfriend of his douche bag brother (Cook). Guess who she is?
Carell can play likably love-struck as well as anyone, and Binoche provides the perfect counterpoint for his awkward fumblings; both are helped immensely by director Peter Hedges (Pieces of April), who knows how to keep things organically charming without being overly cloying. The problem is that someone at the studio obviously wanted to play it safe, which is why chunks of the film are reserved for the actor to do dependably Carellesque shtick for the masses: Here’s a bit of uncomfortable babbling, there’s a touch of rubber-limb flailing. Somewhere in between the forced movie-star moments is a smaller, sweeter picture trying to get out. We wish the suits would have given that second film more breathing room.
Cast and crew
Norbert Leo Butz