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</script></div>{/googleAds}Peter Hedges, academy award nominated screenwriter of 2002's About a Boy and writer/director of Pieces of April, one of 2003's best films, attempts to throw his hat back in the ring of cinematic significance with another family drama, Dan in Real Life, this time set during a Fall weekend near Rhode Island's picturesque Narragansett Bay. But whereas in those previous contributions Hedges solidified his attention on smaller, more manageable casts of characters, here the family of focus is so big in both numbers and issues, Hedges seems to lose a bit of control on what he wants the film to be. He tackles worthy messages and mines some good moments from the premise, but all too often, he seems to struggle with what must have felt like an overwhelming number of characters. As a result, he can't quite get a firm grasp on the screwball brand of humor he was after.

The family in question is the Burns clan headed by Poppy (John Mahoney) and Nanna (Dianne Weist). They've gathered in the family lake house for a fall reunion of friendly games, meals and the familial friendship that accompanies such outings. But with no fewer than 12-15 members, the family seems to always be stepping on each other's toes both literally and figuratively. The house doesn't really seem large enough to accommodate everyone, and neither does the spec script by Pierce Gardner reworked by Hedges. It's never made quite clear how everyone fits into the family other than brothers Mitch (Dane Cook) and Dan (Steve Carell), the latter of which is a widower left with the task of raising three daughters ranging in age from 10 years to 16. He's a Dear Abby-style family advice columnist who meets and falls for an equally interested brunette, Marie (Juliette Binoche), at the local bookstore when he takes a break from family obligations. It's a bit difficult to buy into their instant relationship however, even if you believe in love at first sight. There's just not any genuine chemistry between the two even though they give equally compelling performances. Not the fault of either, nor that of the director. Just a missing intangible that can't be forced but that must be present for the entire story to work.

Upon his return to the lake house, as Dan is informing his family that he might have found someone special, he's interrupted by the arrival of Mitch with his new significant other, who ironically, turns out to be Marie. And thus, the film's wacky premise is set into motion. Trouble is the wackiness is not handled too well. The film's not that funny most of the funniest parts were revealed in the trailer - and it's not even very interesting. Moments that were meant to be laugh-out-loud hilarious only manage a few smiles and feel too contrived to be sincere. Any real charm is lost in the misdirected attention to peripheral goings-on. These impossible love triangle scenarios are usually a sure-fire thing in a romantic comedy and have been since the '50s and '60s but where we're supposed squirm, we don't. Where we're supposed to laugh, we don't. And where we're supposed to cry, we don't. The emotional levels barely rise above a trickle and unfortunately the comedic genius of Carell can't rescue that. I couldn't help but think the entire time I was watching the film that something really bad was going to happen, and similarly, I thought that at any moment I'd get a great laugh. Neither did. And as a result, the whole experience was just, oh well.

Kind of like tofu. It's difficult to hate Dan in Real Life, but it's even harder to like it. It's not necessarily a bad film - in fact it has some truly heartfelt moments - it's just that it could have been so much better. Such a huge cast and all the subsequent threads are difficult to control and unfortunately Hedges misses the many characterizations. As a result, the film is a pleasant enough diversion, but will be soon forgotten.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; French and Spanish.

Language and Sound: English, French and Spanish Dolby 5.1 Surround.

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; deleted scenes; director's commentary; making-of featurette; alternate ending.

* Commentary - Feature-length audio Commentary with co-writer/director Peter
* Featurettes
o "Just Like Family: The Making of Dan In Real Life" (14:58)
o "Handmade Music: Creating the Score" (9:46)
* Deleted Scenes - 11 scenes that didn't make the final totalling 20:05
* Outtakes - 03:25 worth of line flubs and improvs

Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging