Dan in Real Life (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 99 Minutes
Grade: B+B+B+AA=A-
Budget: $25 million (est.)
Box Office: $48 million US, $12 million Int’l, $12 million DVD

Directed by: Peter Hedges, who wrote and directed the obscure Katie Holmes film Pieces of April and wrote the screenplays for About a Boy, A Map of the World, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Dianne Wiest, and John Mahoney.

Dan Burns is a parenting columnist struggling to raise his own two daughters after the death of his wife. While on the annual family vacation, he happens to meet the lovely and enchanting Marie, who at first seems like his second chance at a soulmate until she turns out to be dating his immature playboy younger brother and staying at the family’s beachfront cottage.

Entertainment Value: B+
It was really, really, really almost an A. But I think I’ve been giving too many As lately, so I’m raising my standards. The picture of a family is wonderful, perhaps a little too wonderful, but nonetheless a great image to hold in our minds. The realities of parenting and relationships are clearly shown. This is Steve Carells make-up movie for what Little Miss Sunshine could have been but wasn’t because of its excessive vulgarity. Mr. Carell, I accept your apology.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language A, Illegality A
There is one scene of a woman and a man in a shower for comedy, but nothing is shown. There is some implied romantic activity, including shown kissing, and a girl dancing suggestively at a bar. And there’s one scene with a man getting punched. Otherwise, clean. That’s why I’m very surprised this was PG-13. I would certainly rate it PG.

Significant Content: B+
There is a difference between being a father and being a dad. When you’ve found the perfect person for you, you cannot go on acting as if you haven’t. Just because someone is a great catch doesn’t mean they’re a great match for you. Don’t make plans, the future will surprise you. True love can be known very quickly, and very deeply. What we want out of life is a bundle of contradictions. Children often know things that adults have lost sight of, even though they lack knowledge. Love, family, honesty, and authenticity are all very important in this movie.
Artistic/Thought Value: A I love a movie that explains itself without explaining itself too obviously, and that’s what happens in this movie in the bookstore scene. Even though you sense that you know what’s going to happen all along in this movie, it’s still quite wonderful watching it get there, even the anxious moments, which are usually my least favorite in awkward situation stories. I particularly valued the way this movie portrayed family and real intimacy among family members. It’s sort of the opposite of The Family Stone.

Discussion Questions:
~What is the difference between loving someone and loving the idea of that person?
~What does it mean when the daughter tells Dan that he’s a good father, but not a very good dad? ~Why does Dan refuse to believe she came up with that idea herself? How does this notion of original ideas become a theme in the movie? Consider the role that Dan’s book plays in the plot.
~How long do you think it takes before you know that you truly love someone enough to commit your life to that person? Do you think the daughter’s romance is authentic? Consider the willingness of the boy to come to Dan for permission.
~How would radical honesty changed the plot of this movie?
~Is it really as impossible to plan for the future as this movie seems to say?
~Do you feel sorry for anyone in this movie? Why?
~What does this movie intend to say about advice columnists? How does the Biblical instruction to judge a tree by its fruit fit here?
~Is this movie a realistic portrayal of what tight families can really be or a caricature of them? Consider the aerobics scene, among others.
~What do you think about Dan’s choice regarding Marie? Marie’s choice regarding Mitch? How would your answers have changed if Marie and Mitch were engaged or married? What does all this have to say about the value of exclusive dating relationships?

Overall Grade: A-
Very enjoyable and thoughtful. And certainly fine for most anyone to watch, even younger kids.

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