Steve Carell is a deceptively good actor. He has much more of a range than most people realise. He’s probably most famous for his more “wacky” or crazy roles, where he gets to be outrageous or obnoxious, like The Office, Anchorman or Date Night. Recently though, I’ve watched a couple of films where he has played much more understated, quieter and, even as lame as this sounds, complex characters. He’s great as part of the ensemble cast in Little Miss Sunshine, plays a fantastic part in the surprisingly enjoyable Stupid Crazy Love (review coming soon) and he’s brilliant in Dan in Real Life.
What makes this film so good is that its genuinely funny and engaging without being silly, outrageous or reliant on slapstick. Steve Carell isn’t being goofy, crazy or putting on a stupid voice. The film relies on the great situation they build and the awkward position that Carell’s Dan finds himself in. The premise is ridiculously simple, Carell meets a woman when he goes to buy a newspaper during a family reunion. He falls for this woman after spending the afternoon with her and then, to his horror, finds out she’s actually his brother’s new girlfriend. That’s only the first ten or twenty minutes of the film, the rest is this new awkward situation he has found himself in and his struggle to deal with it.
That situation brings a certain element of comedy with it anyway but the key to the film working is that Dan’s family is so well written. The family reunion has all the usual traits of any annual “get-together” from a talent show, American Football game and crossword competition. Each situation brings with it more awkwardness as Carell tries to work out whether he should act on his new feelings and with it comes the comedy. The writers manage to put Carell in some great situations where he has to talk or act his way out of trouble but they all work. It never seems forced or like the film is dragging you into the next key comedy set-up, like Meet the Parents could be accused of doing.
It also helps that the cast that surrounds Carell are all equally as brilliant. Juliette Binoche as his “love interest” has a great chemistry with Carell and you find yourself genuinely rooting for the couple to do well and get together, even though it means causing pain to his brother. The brother in question is the surprisingly good Dane Cook. I don’t really see the appeal of Dane Cook as I feel there are better actors out there to play his brand of “charming, handsome and funny leading man” (Ryan Reynolds for example) but in this he pitches the handsome and charming perfectly. It plays up to the comedy that you have Steve Carell competing with Dane Cook but in a much more subtle way than most films would allow.
I was pleasantly surprised by Dan in Real Life. What I thought would be a slow drama with a hint of quirky comedy is much funnier than you expect. The characters are so well cast that the lines they deliver have a humorous edge to them. Carell is so likable that you really want him to do well and you genuinely feel his pain because of the “no-win” situation he has found himself in.
Overall, I thought Dan in Real Life was a surprisingly funny and charming film. Steve Carell shows he has much more of a diverse range than some of the more goofy, obnoxious or clueless characters he has played before would have you believe. The film is funny without being outrageous and instead relies on some great situations, fantastic casting and well written dialogue to deliver the laughs.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)