In Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell takes a break from broad comedy characters and plays a down-to-Earth widower and advice columnist who unexpectedly falls in love with his brother's girlfriend at a family reunion. Filled with some wonderfully comedic scenes and some excellent acting, this Blu-ray disc presents the film with a wonderful image even if the audio design isn't as enticing as it could have been.
Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a widower four years on with three daughters who are growing up much too quickly. Jane (Alison Pill) has her license and wants to drive, something that fills Dan with dread, but even worse is Cara (Brittany Robertson) who has just discovered boys and is miserable that her father won't let her date even though she's only 15. Lilly (Marlene Lawston) is a too-cute-for words 10 year old that Dan knows will start taking after her sisters all too soon.
Though he's having trouble with his own family, Dan, ironically, writes a help column for the local newspaper, "Dan in Real Life" where he give parenting and marital advice to people who write in with their problems.
As the movie starts, it's time for the Burns to take their yearly road trip to their family reunion. Dan, his two brothers and sister and their families all go up to a lake house that their parents have for a fun-filled weekend. Of course Cara is furious that she has to go and leave her one true love, Marty (Felipe Dieppa), behind, and Jane is miffed that she can't drive. When they all arrive, Dan's not in the best of moods. The next morning his mother sends him into town for the newspaper and tells him, basically, to stay away until he's cheered up.
While browsing through a bookstore, Dan bumps into Marie (Juliette Binoche), they get to talking, and Dan ends out pouring his life out to this stranger. He's totally captivated by her exotic style and quick laugh and when she has to leave, she regretfully tells him that she's just became involved with someone. He manages to get her number anyway, and promises to call.
Back at the lake house, Dan's in a fantastic mood. His two brothers can instantly tell the difference and ask him what's going on, and when he tells them he's met a fantastic woman they are all overjoyed. Just then, Dan's younger brother, Mitch (Dane Cook) announces that his new girlfriend has arrived: none other than Marie.
Dan's crushed, and things get worse as the day progresses. It turns out that Marie is as amazing as he thought. She's widely traveled, smart, deep, and above all charming. The whole family really likes her, including Dan's kids. It's clear that the attraction is mutual and that Dan is a much better match for Marie than his frivolous pretty-boy brother, but what can he do?
This is a delightful film that is just a joy to watch. The script is wonderful, capturing all of the best moments of a family get together and translating all of those funny you-had-to-have-been-there moments perfectly to the screen. It's funny and charming all at once, and though the family gathering is more than a little idealized, it's easy to over look. It also doesn't try to be too hip or cool with snappy lines flying from everyone's lips. It lets the comedy flow naturally from the events and it humor seems natural and realistic.
This film doesn't have broad humor like most of Carell's earlier films, so if you're expecting another 40 Year Old Virgin you might be disappointed at first. In this film Carell plays a real guy, much like his role in Little Miss Sunshine except even more firmly grounded. He does a fantastic job too, able to be funny yet miserable at the same time.
While this is a very good movie, it isn't prefect. More than a few key plot points are predictable, which is disappointing. I hate when I know what's going to happen before the characters do. I also wasn't enamored with Dane Cook. His performance wasn't as grounded in reality as the other actors and his personality didn't seem to fit with the rest of the family's style.
To make up for Cook, all three of the actresses who play Dan's daughters are phenomenal. Not only do they all play their roles to perfection, but they look like they could be sisters too. Brittany Robertson had some of the best scenes, and her over-the-top and oh-so-deep lines are fantastic. Not only does she deliver them with a straight face, but she sells them too. When she yells to her father, Marty is driving away "You are a murderer of love!" she's so sincere it's impossible not to laugh.
Another aspect of the film that needs to be commented on is the music.
It was simply great. This soundtrack was not overproduced like most
of the films that come out of Hollywood. Why do directors and producers
feel that every time something emotional happens there has to be swelling
violins in the background telling the audience how to feel? It's
often as grating and intrusive as a laugh-track. This film doesn't
go that route; instead it has mainly acoustical folk-type music (written
by Sondre Lerche, someone I'd never heard of before but is now on my radar)
as background music during traveling scenes and at a few key moments.
This music never tells the audience what to think; rather it's used to
set a tone rather than a feeling and adds a lot to the film's appeal.
This disc preserves the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks very good. The colors are warm, giving the whole film the look of a fall day in the country, exactly what the director and DP were aiming for. The level of detail is very strong too. The fine lines around Steve Cartell's eyes are clearly visible even in medium shots, as are the tear tracks that line Brittany Robertson's face when her boyfriend is sent back home. There's a fair amount of image 'pop' throughout the movie too. In the few dark areas, such as when the lights go out in the bowling alley, the transfer still looks good with nice blacks and texture-rich details.
Digitally things also look very good too. Aliasing, posterization, and blocking are all absent, as is edge enhancement. I'm glad Disney has at least gotten the word that EE is a bad thing.
The uncompressed 5.1 PCM audio sounds fine, as does the DD 5.1 track. If you're looking for other languages, the disc also boasts a DD5.1 French track and a stereo Spanish one as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
I screened the film with the uncompressed audio and found it sounding great, though the sound design for the film was severely limited. The rears were used only sparingly, making the movie very front-heavy, aurally speaking. I would have preferred a more opened and full soundstage. Though the movie is mainly dialog based, there were opportunities to use the rears more often, especially in the outdoor scenes and the talent show.
Aside from the critique, the movie sounds fine. The wonderful music by Sondre Lerche was clean and crisp and made the film more fun to watch while never overpowering it. The dialog was likewise easy to discern and the range was very good.
This disc has a good number of quality extras and reproduces everything that is on the SD release of the film. First is a commentary track with director and co-writer Peter Hedges he's fairly lively in this track, discussing the filming, some of the origins of some scenes and pointing out adlibbed dialog. It was a solid, informative track.
There's an outtake reel that's pretty lame, mostly just the cast laughing after the flubbed lines. It runs a little less than four minutes and is presented in SD. The rest of the extras are all in HD.
The making-of featurette, Just Like Family, is a notch above the typical behind-the-scenes extra, but not more than that. Filled with scenes from the film, this promotional piece has the director and star discussing the film and their characters. There are some fun moments in this, and it is a bit deeper than the typical "everyone was great" piece but I would have preferred longer interview clips and more in depth questions.
Handmade Music: Creating the Score is a very interesting look at how the music was created for the film. This 10-minute piece shows song writer Sondre Lerche on the set and in the studio working with the director to get the sonic signature just right. The did a wonderful job and I found this look at the music very interesting.
Lastly there is a selection of eleven deleted scenes that are all pretty good. There was only one that I was really glad they cut (when the oldest daughter has trouble driving at the beginning) and several that I wish they had included (especially the scenes involving his parents.) There's an extended version of the talent show as well as a longer look at Dan catching his daughter with her boyfriend. There's an optional commentary by the director and he talks about why the scenes were eventually cut.
Dan in Real Life is a very enjoyable film. Slightly reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, except without the dysfunctional family, this is a gentle comedy that would be perfect to take a date too. While the movie is not sappy or maudlin, it's not broad and over-the-top either. A very funny film that strikes a prefect balance, it's accented by a wonderful looking Blu-ray disc. Highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.