While it’s great to watch Carell be wacky and silly (“LOUD NOISES!”), this is the kind of role at which he truly excels. There’s a sense of underlying drama behind every wisecrack or funny face he makes in DAN IN REAL LIFE, a natural evolution from what he does so well on The Office each week. His effortless and honest performance really sells the tone of the flick, which eagerly finds humor in a rather complicated and serious situation. There’s plenty of broad comedy, but it’s a lot of little things that leave a longer impression (such as Carell throwing that giant rock in the water.)
The rest of the ensemble cast is just as strong, from Dan’s parents (Dianne Wiest and Frasier dad John Mahoney) to his three kids. (The middle daughter is a little annoying and overdramatic, but so are most teen girls that age.) Bucking the trend he’s unceremoniously set up for himself, Dane Cook honestly wasn’t too bad in this movie. He uses his frat boy-jackass persona to good effect, throwing in some actual acting to pull the whole thing off. And I’ve said this before in other reviews, and I’ll say it again: Juliette Binoche is sex on wheels. (Though Emily Blunt gives her a run for her money as Ruthie “Pigface” Draper.) Binoche is endlessly and realistically appealing in this movie, which helps you forgive her and Carell for their near-adulterous relationship.
Director Peter Hedges previously penned ABOUT A BOY, the only Hugh Grant movie I’ll ever admit to liking, and DAN IN REAL LIFE shares that film’s similar comedic and dramatic sensibilities. In his second time out as a director (PIECES OF APRIL being the first), Hedges rides the fine line between the two genres with ease. And while the final resolution may come a little too easy, it also solidifies DAN IN REAL LIFE’s spot as a family friendly film that’s eager to please its audience.
Commentary by writer/director Peter Hedges: Hedges comes off as a smart and sensible guy with a unique approach to filmmaking (that apparently works well). He also points out a couple subtle things you might have missed in the movie. (The ending shot works a lot better now.)
Just Like Family (14:59): A nicely put together Making Of that covers a lot of ground, mainly showing how close the cast and crew grew during filming and how that played out on the screen.
Handmade Music (9:47): Hedges was concerned about the film being “overscored”—using music to evoke emotion, instead of the story and actors. He settled on young songwriter Sondre Lerche from Norway to write a few low key songs, as well as show up on set to play music and set the mood for each scene.
Deleted Scenes (20:06): Eleven in total; mostly some more time spent with Dan and his children, including one scene that was used in the previews but cut from the film.
Outtakes (3:26): Your typical flubs and uncontrollable guffaws. There are a couple laugh out loud moments, including Carrell completely wrecking a dramatic line.
There’s also some Previews and a quick Easter Egg of Carell doing some alternate takes.
Extra Tidbit: Peter Hedges wrote the novel WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE.