Falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place is a popular theme in Hollywood romances; but it gets a fresh and bittersweet comic twist in a new film starring American comic actor Steve Carell and French screen favorite Juliette Binoche. Alan Silverman has a look at Dan In Real Life.
Steve Carell plays Dan Burns, a newspaper columnist who doles out advice in response to readers' questions about family issues; but, in real life, Dan is struggling to deal with his own family.
Dan is a widowed father of three daughters. It's been a couple of years since his wife died and he can not bring himself to think about a new relationship; but while on family holiday visit to his parents seaside summer home in Rhode Island, he meets the most interesting woman browsing in a bookstore.
In a traditional romantic comedy that encounter is known as the 'cute meet,' after which the couple - obviously perfect for one another - has to overcome an obstacle in the way of their relationship. In Dan In Real Life, that part has family complications.
It turns out she is dating Dan's long-single brother, so Dan decides to hide his feelings. Steve Carell says it does not seem too far-fetched.
"I think it's a situation that a lot of people have found themselves in: they are attracted to somebody who they probably shouldn't be drawn to and, at the expense of hurting other people in their lives, they stay away. To me, that's what the movie is about. It's two people trying not to fall in love," he says.
Juliette Binoche plays Marie Anne and, in her view, the character wants to be honest about her feelings with both brothers. She recognizes a man who, somehow, belongs to her ...that has this ability to comfort and protect her, which is Steve Carell's character.
"She knows that the other man, who is the brother, is never going to be able to fulfill that need and never can be the man that she can spend time with. She is aware of that and it is a tragedy, somehow, because she knows she can't live with one and can't have the other one because it's far too complicated; but deep down in her I'm sure she knows," Binoche says.
Dan in Real Life is co-written and directed by Peter Hedges, whose novel What's Eating Gilbert Grape became a favorite independent film in 1993. He continued to explore the theme of dysfunctional families in his directing debut a decade later, Pieces of April. Hedges says "Dan..." is about a much more grounded group than his previous works.
"For me it was a chance to write about a family that wasn't overtly dysfunctional ...that was actually doing okay, but this one guy has a hurt, hurt heart," he says.
Steve Carell agrees that Dan is hurting, but he says it is the family, especially his daughters, that keeps him from wallowing in depression and allows him to find ways to smile through his grief.
"My immediate family has experienced a lot of loss in the last few years and one thing that I've gleaned from that is that even within depression and sorrow and darkness there is light ...there is possibility and there are moments of happiness," Carrell says. "Even the most depressed people can laugh and enjoy moments. I think the problem that this character of Dan is having is that he's put everyone else in his life, mostly his daughters, ahead of his own needs.
"The fact that he hasn't been taking care of himself is impacting everyone around him; but I never thought of the character as someone who is self-pitying or something that could spiral into being maudlin. It's just a guy who is trying to do his best and he's gone through some rough times, but generally people who are depressed do not know that they are ...and I think that is where he is," adds Carrell.
Dan In Real Life features screen veterans John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest as Dan's parents. Dane Cook co-stars as the love-struck brother; and the English actress who has rapidly become a favorite in American films, Emily Blunt, plays the brothers' former schoolmate, now all grown up. The soundtrack music is by Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche.