Dan in Real Life

Actor Steve Carell and comedian Dane Cook have one distinct thing in common — in the year 2007, they have each made for which they were completely wrong. Thankfully they’ve both found a movie that was absolutely perfect for them — and it just happens to be the same film.
By  · Published on October 26th, 2007

Actor Steve Carell and comedian Dane Cook have one distinct thing in common — in the year 2007, they have each made for which they were completely wrong. For Carell, his big budget family comedy Evan Almighty went from family fun to overblown snore-fest as quickly as its makers spent the $100 million dollar budget. Cook starred alongside Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck, a movie that died off shortly after the Wedding Crashers-esque sex romb and the Alba panty shot. So it would figure that Carell and Cook would end up together in a movie like Dan in Real Life, one that is seemingly perfect for both of them.

Carell plays Dan, a popular advice columnist and widower who is struggling to hold it all together as he brings up his three daughters. On the verge of getting a big syndication deal and having a break down at the same time, Dan and his girls pack up and head for the family cottage in Rhode Island where their large, awkward family awaits for a week of together time. Among the family, who provide for plenty of heartwarming comedic moments are Dan’s parents (John Mahoney and Diane Wiest) and his brothers and sisters, one of which is his goofy brother Mitch (Cook).

On day two of the family vacation Dan has a chance meeting with the beautiful, effortlessly charming Marie (Juliette Binoche) in the local book store. They hit it off, spend the entire afternoon chatting it up and ultimately end up exchanging phone numbers despite the fact that Marie is currently in a complicate relationship. That complicated relationship turns out to be with none other than Dan’s brother Mitch. The two are then forced to endure an entire week of awkward encounters while slowly realizing that love, and life don’t always go as we plan.

A good friend compared Dan in Real Life to The Family Stone, but having never seen The Family Stone I can only say that there is no way that this movie could be worse than anything in Sarah Jessica Parker’s filmography. In fact, this film is more akin to Little Miss Sunshine in that it is the quirkiness of the family around Dan that keep the movie very light and fun. Writer/Director Peter Hedges and co-writer Pierce Gardner paint a family portrait that is all to familiar; the demanding kids (one of which is a real hellcat of a teenager), the quirky aunts and uncles and the charming parents all provide the film with great substance that is wrapped around the core story of Dan, his brother and their mutual love interest.

Within that core story is a brilliant performance from Steve Carell, who shows off the fact that he isn’t just reserved to doing “dumb” comedic roles such as Michael Scott in “The Office”, but that he can deliver a character that is funny, honest and heartwarming. Carell’s performance alone is good enough to have you shedding tears of laughter and tears of sorrow. It just goes to show that when Steve Carell is in the right role, he is nothing short of Oscar worthy.

Juliette Binoche, one of the classiest and sexiest 40+ year old actresses on the planet, is a wonderful balance to Carell’s offbeat Dan. She is a burst of light in every scene, portraying Marie as both a worldly beauty and a down-to-earth lady.

Binoche also vibes well with Dane Cook, who does well to not let his off camera persona get in the way of his acting. Finally, we have a movie where Dane Cook plays someone other than Dane Cook or a lame version of Ryan Reynolds. Cook is funny and sweet, showing off his singing skills in one of the funnier scenes in the entire film. My recommendation to Mr. Cook, keep finding roles like this, roles in which you fit just right, and you will certainly find your place in Hollywood. Continue to take roles like Good Luck Chuck and Employee of the Month and you will be hanging with the “Two Coreys” faster than you can say “I once made out with Jessica Alba.”

On the whole, Dan in Real Life combines the hilarious and brilliant Steve Carell with a very smart script, leading to a film that is one of the most heartwarming and genuinely funny releases of the year. It only runs into problems if you get nit-picky about a few small plot holes. But honestly, you are just going to have to let some of the imperfections go and enjoy the film. If you are a fan of Carell or a fan of great, awkward humor, then seeing Dan in Real Life is going to be one of life’s easier choices.

The Upside: Steve Carell delivers his smartest, funniest performance yet.

The Downside: You have to give into the film in order to enjoy it, ignoring a few little plot holes.

On the Side: Writer/Director Peter Hedges also wrote the screenplay for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Grade: A-

Release Date: October 26, 2007
Rated: PG-13 for some innuendo.
Running Time: 1 hour 35 min.
Cast: Steve Carell, Dane Cook, Juliette Binoche, Emily Blunt, Amy Ryan
Director: Peter Hedges
Screenplay: Peter Hedges, Pierce Gardner
Studio: Focus Features, Buena Vista Pictures
Official Website:

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)