The way that I was able to come up with this script is that I read somebody else’s script and changed how some of the parts were, so that the movie would be more like my family and me. And that’s how I wrote the script all by myself. Then I made the actor’s improvise all their best lines, like when Dane Cook said, “Mom.” Dane Cook thought of that all by himself. Dane Cook claims he invented the word mom. I believe him. He writes all his own jokes you know!
– Paraphrasing Peter Hedges, in the DVD extras of Dan in Real Life
I cannot blame Mr. Hedges for this thing. Were I confronted with a script written by Pierce Gardner, the scribe behind insidious Winona Ryder vehicle Lost Souls, I would probably write my family into it as well.
Dan in Real Life tells the story of Dan “Kookie” Burns some sort of part-time advice columnist, full-time widower, who is raising his three smart-mouthed daughters. The daughters names are The One Who Wants to Drive the Car, The Little One, and The Slutty One. Coincidentally, this properly fulfills Margaret Cho’s prediction that groups of three women will consist of the Smart One, Sweet One, and ‘Ho archetypes.
She may be a failure as a comedian, but she has her moments as a sociologist.
Anywho, Dan pulls his three daughters out of school for a week so that they can hang out with their extended family in Rhode Island. This annual Burns-fest is said to nearly triple the population of the tiny Ocean State.
The family consists of a number of recognizable and likeable actors relegated to the status of glorified extras. I mean, poor Amy Ryan, now an Oscar nominated actress, has absolutely nothing to do in this movie. Hell, when they introduce her character, her face is partially obscured by a dog!
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Peter Hedges?! Why introduce a character when you can’t see her? It isn’t as though she was playing a Carlton the Doorman type. She’s not Maris on Frasier. It’s not as though she is going to be doling out nuggets of wisdom to Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor in the backyard. Show the character you’re introducing!
Showing stuff is part of being a director!
Hedges might be most famous for writing the novel turned Johnny Depp movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The film’s legacy is one of convincing people that Leonardo DiCaprio is, in fact, mentally retarded. To this day, a number of Americans still believe DiCaprio to be a retard.
I am one of those Americans.
Anyways, Steve Carell has made it up to Amy Ryan by giving her a part on The Office, so they should be square.
Also in the DVD extras, Hedges says that he wanted audiences to see the actors in Dan in Real Life as they have never seen these actors before. One would have hoped that this would mean that Dane Cook gets set on fire, but unfortunately this is not the case. What we end up with is the unprecedented casting of:
– Steve Carell as the button-down, likeable yet love starved and sexually frustrated type
– Dianne Wiest as the warm and loving matriarch
– John Mahoney as the gruff patriarch
– Dane Cook as an unlikeable tool
– Juliette Binoche as the exotic French woman
Wait a second. . . Aren’t these the sort of parts these actors always play? You lied to me Peter Hedges!
Perhaps, he was referring to Jessica Hecht. She is most famous for playing Susan Bunch, the lesbian lover of Ross Geller’s ex-wife on Friends. She plays a sassy and married heterosexual, not unlike her character on The Single Guy.
So, the plot goes that Dan goes to a book store while in Rhode Island. There, he impersonates a clerk in order to mack on an emotional fragile brunette. He sells her many books, and forces the store to give him a commission at knife-point.
Later on, he chats up the brunette. She shamelessly flirts with Dan, leading him on for hours, only to ditch him after revealing that she has a serious boyfriend. Forgetting that he is in Rhode Island, Dan fails to realize that her boyfriend is probably related to him. In this case, it turns out to be his brother, Mitch, as portrayed by non-Actor Dane Cook, long rumored to be a comedian.
Mitch, as one should be able to tell from that annoying frat-boy sobriquet, is a slow-witted sexual predator. Mitch teaches some sort of aerobics class in order to take full advantage of his brightly colored unitard fetish, which developed from seeing Roadhouse during his formative years. (At least, I think this is all clearly spelled out in the film’s subtext.)
The womanizing Mitch, after years of seeing a bunch of taut, gyrating gym bunnies, decide that he wants to settle down with Marie, a woman who looks to be 10 years his elder. (Juliette Binoche plays Marie; she is about 8 years older than Dane Cook.) Perhaps he is a big fan of Ashton. . .
Marie decides to take advantage of the attention of the Burns brothers, cruelly taunting Dan with suggestive callisthenics and pancakes, all the while wrapping herself in a shroud of pretentiousness and unlikeability.
Eventually, every stupid thing that you imagine is going to happen does happen. Then the movie jumps ahead in time 1 year, where Steve Carell and his love interest are married and everybody dances. This thing is, of course, not like any other Steve Carell movie ever.
That’s what Peter Hedges told me.