Dan in Real Life – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Dear Dan,

I just saw the movie that was made about your life. Congratulations, by the way! Hopefully the producers paid you a nice sum – more money than you’d make for writing a column for this small town newspaper. Anyway, I wanted to know, why wasn’t there more about your work in the movie? From the trailers it seemed like there would be more of your advice column in the movie and that they would work more of that into the story. What happened?


Loved the movie, but what about us?

Dear Loved the movie,

First of all, thank you for your compliments. As for the money, I’m not at liberty to discuss but yes I did. You were frustrated that the movie didn’t explore more of my work life? I thought audiences would be happy they didn’t have to sit through this. A writer’s work is not glamorous. Advice columnists like myself read a lot of letters and try to provide insight and consultation to the best of our ability. Nobody would want to watch 98 minutes of that. No. Instead, director Peter Hedges focused more on my life which, as ordinary as it might be, provides much more for people to relate to.

Dan in Real Life is exactly what the title claims: The main character is advice columnist Dan Burns, a man who is a widower and father of three girls. The story depicted is about the events of one particular week of his life. The film doesn’t provide any outlandish situations, it doesn’t give excuses for the character’s sometimes bad decisions, and it never deters its focus from Dan. It simply is real life.

The bulk of the movie takes place inside Dan’s parents’ (played by John Mahoney and Dianne Weist) home; a beautiful yet lived-in looking home on the Rhode Island coast. He and his three girls traveled there for their tradition of spending the week together as a family. Everyone is there: Dan’s brothers and sisters, and their kids. The house is bursting at the seams.

On the first day there, Dan leaves the girls with his family and takes the afternoon to himself, at a small bookstore. He is mistaken for a store employee by a kind woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche). They spend the afternoon together, losing track of time, talking and having coffee. Until Marie suddenly looks at her watch and claims that she’s late and must go. Dan awkwardly asks for her phone number and she gives it to him. When Dan goes back to his parents’ house, he tells everyone about the mysterious woman he met and how taken he was by her. Suddenly, she walks in the house and is introduced by Dan’s brother Mitch (a muted Dane Cook) as his new girlfriend. Throughout the movie, Dan is forced to hide his feelings for Marie, and it looks like Marie is trying to do the same. Mitch is unsuspecting and is unrelenting in his fawning over his new love, which doesn’t help the situation at all.

Of course, in the end, everything works out which may be a very movie-like cliché. But the situation of the relationship between Dan and Marie is just odd enough, that it doesn’t take away anything from the real life aspect of the movie. Never once did I think, “Nah, that could never happen.” Maybe one of the reasons why is because of the casting. Juliette Binoche is the perfect age to be a romantic interest of Steve Carell’s character. He’s older, mid-forties perhaps, and has three girls, two of whom are teenagers. Plus there’s just enough quirkiness added in to make it more real.

Speaking of casting, this movie is cast perfectly all around. John Mahoney and Dianne Weist, great character actors and easily recognizable are given very small yet wise and important roles. Amy Ryan, nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress for Gone Baby Gone, plays a very minor role as well. In fact, I don’t think she was on screen for more than five or ten minutes. A personal favorite of mine, Broadway’s Norbert Leo Butz also gives a fantastic performance in this film as brother Clay Burns. And of course, Dane Cook as brother Mitch Burns. Everyone wants to know how Dane Cook is in this film. He’s more subdued than he is in his stand-up routine and in some of his comedy films, but he’s still given the opportunity to let loose during one scene in particular. Overall though, he’s easy to stomach and works very well for this character.

Given the spectacular cast, director Peter Hedges pretty much just let them loose. They were given the opportunity to improvise, give feedback, and actually live together like a family. Hedges just had to sit back and roll the camera. He did an excellent job of creating a comfortable and real environment for everyone and all of that is seen when you watch the film.

The soundtrack was also phenomenal. Unlike Juno, which was praised for its quirky soundtrack, the music in this film actually fits with what’s going on. Peter Hedges chose singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche to compose new songs for this film. They all work perfectly. His songs give the movie a more laid-back style and, I’ll say it again, add to the reality of the film.

Dan in Real Life was a breath of fresh air of a movie. It’s one that you’ll want to recommend to everyone.

Presented with Dolby Digital Surround sound and with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The surround sound really helps bring out the subtle but very effective soundtrack, and the aspect ratio only enhances the beautiful surroundings in the film.

Just Like Family: The Making of Dan In Real Life – This is what “making of” featurettes should be like. They show all of the behind the scenes footage that audiences actually care about. How the cast came together, how the director worked with all of them, the camaraderie on the set, this one shows it all. One cool tidbit is that the entire cast actually gathered in the house (which is a real house, not a set) and lived there together with no crew for a week before shooting. Steve Carell couldn’t make it because he was filming “The Office”, but the director had all of the actors make him presents, color him pictures, and perform songs for him so that when he arrived, he felt like part of the family. Great featurette.

Handmade Music: Creating the Score – Director Peter Hedges wanted to create a vibe similar to The Graduate with Simon and Garfunkel and Harold and Maude with Cat Stevens, so he selected one singer/songwriter that spoke to him and used him throughout. The music in this film is beautiful and perfect for the atmosphere.

Also included are 11 Deleted Scenes that can be watched with optional commentary by the director and include a very long extended talent show scene.

There is also a montage of very funny outtakes, and a full length audio commentary by writer/director Peter Hedges.

Trailers included are ones for: Disney Blu-Ray DVDs, Wall-E, and the DVD releases of Enchanted DVD release, and Becoming Jane

Dan In Real Life is a gem of a film. One that I’ll be recommending to friends and suggesting to watch when friends come over. The extras are just enough to entertain without feeling overwhelming.


Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Dan In Real Life. Directed by Peter Hedges. Starring Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook. Written by Peter Hedges. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: March 11, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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