Dan in Real Life

Steve Carell ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") continues to impress me. This time out, he plays a shy widower with three daughters; he writes a newspaper advice column. They are going to spend some vacation time at his parents' cabin (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) with lots of siblings and in-laws, plus nieces and nephews of various ages. This is clearly a large, happy family and everything is organized to a "Tee." (Although he DOES have to sleep in the laundry room where there is usually a load of clothes in the dryer, WITH tennis shoes!)

On the first morning, his mother sends him to the nearby village to buy a newspaper. While he is in the shop, he sees a woman, played by Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat," "Cache" and an Academy Award for "The English Patient"), who tries to ask the proprietor for some assistance. The proprietor is on the phone and ignores her, so when she sees Dan looking at her, she thinks he works there. He helps her and it isn't until she is ready to make her purchases that he confesses he doesn't. They are having so much fun by then they go to a coffee shop and go on chatting and laughing. This is the first time since his wife died four years earlier that he has been able to relax and talk with a woman so he is smitten. She suddenly realizes she is late getting somewhere and rushes off.

When he finally gets back to the cabin, his brother (Dane Cook) introduces him to his new girlfriend...yup...it's Binoche. Of course he is instantly hurt but has no intention of stealing his brother's girlfriend, so of course the movie is about his turmoil.

The family is determined to drag him out of his grief. At one point, his father comes into the laundry room to have a little father/son chat. The mother soon joins them. Next comes a brother and his wife to start a load of laundry. Finally every adult in the family is jammed into the laundry room with him. They have taken upon themselves to throw him back into the dating pool and have arranged a blind date with a woman he knew many years ago when they were children. At that time, her nickname was "Pig Face." He is so reluctant to go that his brother offers to make it a double date with Binoche...much to Dan's discomfort.

A major European star, Juliette Binoche is a veteran of big films and small. In this one, she is warm, funny and fit. The family dynamics are fun, with everyone participating in the homemade entertainments because there is no television at the cabin and it is up to them to find ways to divert themselves. The diversions range from competitive crossword puzzles to charades. Mom and Dad are always getting help in meal preparation, the kids help set the table, the adult sons do the dishes, everyone does laundry... you get the picture.

Dan's daughters are clearly being raised right. They are doing age-appropriate adolescent stuff, but when Dad puts his foot down, they reluctantly obey. I loved that there was automatically one table for the grown-ups and one for the kids. That's the way it should be and it looked so natural!

I liked this movie.