Directed by Peter Hedges
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French; 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Review Date: February 25, 2008
Dan in Real Life is a good-natured, reasonably funny, but surprisingly formulaic family comedy that’s predictable every step of the way. It has ingratiating actors and a warm heart at its center, but there’s simply nothing about it that distinguishes it from other recent family comedies. Given the talent before and behind the camera, it’s a big letdown.
Widower Dan Burns (Steve Carrell) has his hands full raising three daughters ( including two teenagers) by himself and penning a local newspaper advice column which has a good chance of becoming syndicated nationally. On a long weekend retreat with his large immediate family at the Rhode Island shore, he meets the charming Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a book store where they immediately bond. However, since each has morning plans, he gets her number and they go their separate ways. Separate, that is, until Dan gets home only to find that his brother Mitch (Dane Cook) has a new girl friend to introduce to the family. You guessed it: it’s Marie. The family takes to her instantly, but Dan spends the wretched weekend fighting his natural urges to confess his love and instead proceeds to completely baffle his family with his oddball behavior.
All of the overly artificial situations the couple find themselves in during the weekend are situations you’ve seen a thousand times before, right down to the family inevitably discovering the truth just when things look like they might work out. All of the hectic contrivances of the weekend could have been avoided with a simple confession at the start, but then there would have been no story , and thus, no movie. And the inevitable resolution of the couples is also something that is way too predictable.
Steve Carrell’s appealing but unassuming nature makes him perfect for the role of Dan, and his underplaying the part keeps him from wearing out his welcome with the tiresome stunts and situations he finds himself in during the movie. Juliette Binoche has the same simple kinetic appeal that brought her the Oscar for The English Patient and made her so captivating in Chocolat. The remainder of the cast is dotted with award winners from stage, film, and television: John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest as Dan’s parents, Norbert Leo Butz, Frank Wood, and Dane Cook as Dan’s brothers, and Emily Blunt as the formerly homely local girl who’s now a stunning fashion model type fixed up on a blind date with Dan. Though the men don’t much resemble brothers from the same family, the natural camaraderie the cast shares gives the film an intrinsic appeal that even the clichéd story can’t subdue.
Writer-director Peter Hedges has done connect-the-dots work in fashioning his screenplay (original script by Pierce Gardner), hitting all the marks without introducing anything fresh into the scenario. He gets the most out of the actual Rhode Island locations, however, as the house has a genuine warmth and enchantment that complements the family dynamic he’s established with his actors, and that has to count for something. There may not be any surprises in the events that occur during this fabled weekend, but it admittedly still makes for a comfortably entertaining, gentle family comedy.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a pristine 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The film has been given a very warm look which translates occasionally into overly brown skin tones. Otherwise, though, color is excellent, sharpness is all one could hope for, and fine details are superbly represented. The film is divided into 14 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 track (4.6 Mbps) is beautifully recorded and very open sounding, but the mix is almost completely isolated into the front channels. Occasionally music may drift into the rears, but that doesn’t happen often. In fact, the only discreet sounds I heard coming from the rears occurred when a series of bedroom doors were slammed and those sounds were placed in the surrounds in a most effective fashion.
Writer-director Peter Hedges contributes an audio commentary track that‘s engaging and heartfelt. He really loves his film and everyone connected with it, and it comes through loud and clear in his very conversational and interesting narration.
“Just Like Family: The Making of Dan in Real Life” is a too-brief 15-minute summation of how the film came about with comments from the director and the actors talking about the director’s choices and work habits. We also see the director talking with the actors and staging some scenes for the movie. It’s presented in 1080p.
“Handmade Music: Creating the Score” introduces us to young songwriter Sondre Lerche who contributed several original songs to the movie which play behind non-dialog scenes. This 1080p featurette runs 10 minutes.
The Blu-ray disc offers 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Peter Hedges explaining why the scenes were removed. The scenes can be played individually or run in one 20-minute chunk. They’re in 1080p.
The disc offers 3½ minutes of outtakes in 480i, mostly people breaking up in the middle of speeches.
The press release also mentions there are two hidden menu items, neither of which I found. (Hopefully someone will find them and post instructions in this thread): “One More” featuring Carrell asking for more takes on a scene and “At the Park” which is Juliette Binoche’s entire mime act which is only seen briefly in the movie.
The disc offers previews of Wall-E, Enchanted, and Becoming Jane.
Dan in Real Life opens no new doors in cinema comedy, but its appealing cast of characters acted by some of the best names in the comedy business makes it an enjoyable if overly familiar movie experience.