“Dan in Real Life” uses one of the most common movie formulas to create its plot. Guy likes girl, girl is with someone else (who is friends/related to guy), guy and girl try to hide their feelings for each other, girl gets mad at guy, the truth is revealed to everyone, guy redeems himself, guy and girl get together and everyone is happy in the end. The problem with “Dan” is that they forgot the crucial piece of this formula; guy redeems himself. By the way, if you are mad at this spoiler (and I use the word spoiler loosely) either you’re an idiot for not seeing this ending coming or you’ve never seen a movie or read a book before. This is not an M. Night Shyamalan movie; there is no surprise ending. It was almost as if the producers were watching the final cut and realized they forgot to put in an ending. This is a great example of a phoned-in ending. It felt too quick and they had resolved none of the issues developed throughout the movie.
The laziest part of this movie is the development of Dan (Steve Carell). Dan is a writer who has an advice column about parenting and relationships with children. He is a widower with three daughters, two of which are teenagers. Since we never hear any of his advice or get any sample of his writings, we don’t understand why he seems to have no idea how to deal with his children. The teenagers both hate him, the youngest is smarter than him, and he does nothing more than sigh and grumble when they abuse him. This is most evident with his middle daughter. She claims to be in love with a boy (who seems to be at least four years older than her) and sneaks around as much as she can with him. Every time she is discovered, she gets mad and screams at him, and he does nothing to discipline her. At one point, she catches him eavesdropping on her phone call and calls him a loser to her boyfriend. He hears this and simply walks away. Seriously? Is there any father alive who wouldn’t have smacked the phone out of her hand (if not her face)? We can only assume he gives good advice in his column, since he is being considered for a national syndication, so why the hell doesn’t he follow it? He doesn’t even pretend to try to deal with the problem.
His oldest daughter is almost as bad. She badly wants to drive, but Dan won’t let her. Again, does he not follow his own advice? Does he even know what teenagers want? Driving is one of the most important things to a teen. What’s worse is she is talking about college, so she’s probably seventeen, if not older. She spends most of the film shooting him dirty looks, asking to drive, and actually admonishing him about flirting with his love interest (Marie). Once again, he shows no emotion and doesn’t even bother to tell her to mind her own business. The writers want us to believe he has no emotion because he is still grieving for his dead wife, but give us no evidence to make us believe it. His father even tells him to get over it (nice dad, by the way). Even with the so-called happy ending, we don’t have any satisfaction because we don’t care about Dan. They have given us no reason to like him and nothing to attach us to him or his plight, especially since his family doesn’t even sympathize with him.
The family was the most unbelievable part of this film. Apparently, the entire family (brothers and sisters with family) travels to mom and dad’s house in Rhode Island for a week of vacation every year. But it’s not for Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other normal reason. I can accept this, although I don’t know any family like this. The rest of the week is filled with activities straight out of summer camp for ten year olds. They exercise as a group in the morning, they scrapbook, they walk on the beach, they play charades, they have a talent show (I am not making this up), complete with costumes, and they all hate Dan. Okay, hating Dan isn’t a normal camp activity, although I’m sure any fat kid would disagree with me. When Dan tells them he met a girl at the bookstore, they all pressure him to call her. Not one of them defends him or at least tells the rest to back off. These are not good people; why does he continue to go back every year? When Marie walks in, introduced as his brother’s (Dane Cook) girlfriend, he decides not to tell them that she is the one he met at the bookstore. I think this would have been a better movie had it progressed with the rest of them knowing this. It would have justified all of their aggression towards him and we would have sympathized with him as an audience. Plus, they could have used all the same scenes and created a much higher level of tension.
For your sake, skip this one and watch “The Wedding Crashers.” It’s the same story, except it’s funny and there are no asshole children that deserve a beating.
Rating: Ask for 8 dollars back. It’ll motivate Carell to try a little harder in the future.