Carell continues to grow in 'Dan'

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Dan in Real Life"


1 hour, 35 minutes

Steve Carell is making the most of his newfound celebrity. Until 1999, he was a bit-part comedian, with walk-ons in various television shows and little-seen films. It was fellow comedian Jon Stewart, of the wildly popular "Daily Show," who picked up on Carell's talent and cast him as a "correspondent."

After that, the TV and movie roles stayed fairly small, but the projects got a little higher profile. Two such appearances in "Bruce Almighty" and "Anchorman" finally led to his big break 2005's one-two punch of "The Office" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin." Carell's career was off and running.

Why the little "Steve Carell, This is Your Life" intro? To show a pattern. Steve Carell may have started as a one-note wacky comedian, but as you watch his progress on "The Office," you realize that Michael Scott is far more than the blowhard buffoon he appears to be. And with meatier parts in indie films like "Little Miss Sunshine" and this week's "Dan in Real Life," it is obvious that he is planning to be around for a while.

As the title character, Dan, Carell plays a bereft man who finds comfort in raising his three daughters after his wife's death, four years previous. "Dan in Real Life" refers to the parenting advice column he writes for his city paper. Despite troubles with the kids (one daughter wants to drive, the other is in love), Dan's doing OK. He may even get syndicated. And then, on the first morning of the yearly family reunion at a cabin in Rhode Island, Dan meets Marie while out getting the paper. Beautiful, exotic, warm, and funny, Marie agrees to a cup of coffee and, over friendly conversation, the two make an unexpected connection.

Suddenly, it's over, as soon as it began. Marie gets a call and has to run, revealing that she is in a new relationship and is very sorry. She's gone. It's not a total loss, though. At least Dan got her number, and the world is full of possibilities.

He drives back to the reunion, eager to discuss the meeting with his family, but there's a surprise awaiting him. His brother has brought his new girlfriend home to meet the family. Guess who.

Though the plot is your basic sitcom fare, the writing is very good, and the characters are all extremely likeable with the feel of real people. The acting is good all around, though I was particularly impressed with Dane Cook as the aforementioned brother, Mitch. It's not that the role requires anything stellar, but he does manage to keep from turning the role into a wacky raunchfest, which has been most of his resume up to this point.

Also good are John Mahoney, who you probably remember from "Frasier," and Dianne Wiest as Dan's parents. Juliette Binoche, as Marie, is perfectly cast. She seems exotic, but not out of place. Best of all, however, is Carell, who plays the pathos and laughs with expert timing.

A friend of mine saw this film and mentioned that it was good that Carell was branching out beyond his Michael Scott persona, and while I agree, I saw this role in a different light. To me, Dan felt like the person Michael Scott might be if he were in real life without the worst parts of the world's most oblivious boss, but with the same sweetness and awkwardness. That's not to say Carell is just playing the same character over and over. Rather, I see this role as a refinement of his alter-ego.

I was actually surprised we got this movie, considering it's been out for a little over a month, but this is the lull right before the major Christmas push begins. There are some good looking movies on the docket, several of which had trailers before "Dan," but the one that sticks with me is not something I'm looking forward to.

I really only mention it because it's pretty much a guarantee that I won't be reviewing it when it most assuredly arrives on the peninsula. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" is like a slap in the face to every childhood memory I hold dear. This movie looks dreadful, and it begs the question, "Who is ponying up the money for this?!" Because you know it wasn't cheap.

On the other hand, I can't wait for Will Smith's "I Am Legend," based on an awesome vampire novel by Richard Matheson. If only the monsters from that preview could have eaten the chipmunks before I had to be subjected to Alvin singing "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me." Yikes.

Don't worry, though. The movie starts right after this, and "Dan in Real Life" is worth the wait.

Grade: B+

"Dan in Real Life" is rated PG-13 for language and adult situation.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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