Marketed as a romantic comedy starring the often hilarious Steve Carell, Dan in Real Life is actually a film about family. Okay, it is a comedy; but not the laugh-out-loud slapstick you would expect from Carell.
Widowed with three young daughters, Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is an advice columnist still mourning for his wife after four years. Beside his job and his children, Dan doesn't really have a life. While on his annual family vacation at his parents' house in New England, Dan meets the woman of his dreams. Marie (Juliette Binoche) is everything he could dream of: beautiful, kind, smart, with a great sense of humor. Suddenly Dan is giggling like a small boy and can't help babbling about Marie.
That is until he finds out Marie is his brother's girlfriend, and she was on her way to join the family for the weekend when Dan and she met. Awkward. Dan tries to force himself to forget about Marie but everywhere he turns, there she is, and his brother Mitch (Dane Cook) keeps reminding Dan how lucky he is and what a fabulous catch Marie is. To complicate matters, Marie is not necessarily saying "no, please keep your distance." Driven by jealousy and self-pity, Dan acts out his frustration like a 15-year-old until his family — not knowing the dilemma — steps in to interfere.
Steve Carell (Evan Almighty) can be inconsistent. He was extremely funny in supporting roles and as Michael Scott in the hit show The Office, but he was flat in Evan Almighty. However, Carell is able to tap into his psychosis as well as his boy-man sensitivity to bring Dan Burns to life. Strangely, Carell shows great dramatic chops in a comedic role. There are key scenes in which his performance is pitch perfect and touching.
Juliette Binoche (Paris, je t'aime) is always lovely and interesting. As Dan's object of affection, however, her character seems somewhat inconsistent and we can't really tell how she feels until later in the film. Granted, the story is mostly told from Dan's perspective but still, her ambiguity keeps the audiences at a distance. She is like this image of perfection but doesn't quite seem real. Dane Cook (Good Luck Chuck) plays a lovable schmuck with ease, but his acting skills are rather lacking, especially in the company of a great cast.
As Dan's three daughters, Alison Pill (Dear Wendy), Brittany Robertson (Frank), and especially Marlene Lawston (Flight Plan) are adorable — they have good chemistry with their onscreen dad. Dianne Wiest (Dedication) and John Mahoney (Frasier) are comforting as Dan's laid back but concerned parents. Finally, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) turns in a remarkably fun and sexy performance as Dan's childhood friend, Ruthie, in spite of her limited screen time.