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Movie Review

Dan in Real Life

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some innuendo

Reviewed by: Patty Moliterno

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Romance, Comedy, Drama
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 26, 2007 (wide)
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Relevant Issues
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What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

Sex, Love and Relationships
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Discover biblical answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more.

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Featuring: Steve Carell
Evan Almighty” (2007)
The 40 Year Old Virgin” (2005)
Juliette Binoche
Chocolat” (2000)
The English Patient” (1996)
Dane Cook
Mr. Brooks” (2007)
Employee of the Month” (2006)
Director: Peter Hedges
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “About a Boy,” “Pieces of April
Producer: Darlene Caamano, Dianne Dreyer, Brad Epstein, Noah Rosen, Jonathan Shestack
Distributor: Focus Features

“Something’s happening to Dan. It’s confusing. It’s awkward. It’s family.”

Without anyone telling the audience that Dan Burns is lonely, it is easy to see. Dan (Steve Carell) is in an empty bed. He wakes up and begins his day—making breakfast, making lunches, washing clothes, working from home. He has been a widow for 4 years, and his life revolves around his 3 daughters and his job as a parenting advice columnist.

However, Dan seems to have trouble with his own family. His oldest daughter Jane is upset with him because he won’t let her drive; Cara is in love, and dad just doesn’t understand her or her life; and Lilly, the youngest daughter, needs a mom around.

When Dan and his daughters go to visit his parents for the annual fall family get together, he meets a woman who takes his breath away. He opens up to Marie (Juliette Binoche) and tells her everything about himself. He tells his family that he has met a woman, and everyone is excited for him, and then Dan discovers Marie is dating his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Dan and Marie keep their meeting a secret from the whole family, and for the rest of the movie, Dan acts crazy because he is torn between his attraction to this woman and his love for his brother.

LANGUAGE: The language was extremely mild for a PG-13 movie. One d-mn, misusing God’s name twice and some songs played have mild language. There is a reference to self love and uncorking the bottle when talking about Dan’s pent up sexual urges. Cara, who is 14, says that her boyfriend has said he wants to wait to have sex.

OTHER OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT: Dan’s daughters are disrespectful toward him. He takes care of them, but we never see them helping out. They are selfish and rude most of the time. Cara, who is often times overemotional, calls her father a loser.

Cara has sweatpants on with the words “You Wish” across the buttocks. After exercising, Marie and Mitch do stretching exercises in a provocative manner. While playing football, Dan tackles Marie, and they stay there a little too long. Dan is standing in the shower with clothes on when Marie is undressing, and you see a brief flash of the side of her breast. Marie gets in the shower with fully clothed Dan. In several scenes, Marie has a low cut top on. Several times women’s cleavage is exposed. There is also a scene with provocative dancing.

Dan gets 2 tickets for running stop signs and hits a police car. Dan also gets punched by Mitch.

This is a family that laughs, fights, plays and forgives. They have fun together and share many happy moments. They share a special bond, and it is because of this that Mitch can forgive his brother. This movie also shows that actions have consequences. When Dan misbehaves at dinner, his mother makes him wash dishes alone. After 2 speeding tickets and hitting a police car, Dan has to forfeit his license. He grounds his daughter for disobeying.

Dan clearly wants what his brother has. He is lusting after a woman that is already taken. However, that is what makes this movie so believable. I rarely read what critics have to say before I see a movie, but I did read that this was not a believable storyline. I beg to differ. When you come from a large family, there is bound to be 2 people who like the same person at some time. This movie appears very human. Dan appears very human. Sometimes he says the wrong thing; sometimes he does the wrong thing. He is just one person trying to get through life.

However, this movie is devoid of any references to God, and while we may try to give advice and seek advice from worldly sources, the best advice comes from the Bible. As I watched this movie, I kept thinking about all the times I get “crazy” because of something I want, or anxious because I don’t know how things will turn out. However, God does. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

While I enjoyed watching this movie and was entertained, I feel the mark of a truly good movie is if it made me think afterwards. I continue to ponder even now as I write. Would things have happened differently if Dan and Marie hadn’t kept their meeting a secret? What advice would I give to someone in a similar situation?

I would recommend this movie for teens and adults. Go and laugh at the silly parts and enjoy yourself. Afterwards, talk about the choices Dan made. Why were his actions wrong? How would you do things differently? What would God want from us in a similar situation?

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—This film is highly enjoyable on many fronts. It is not for the cynics. It is not for the critical of heart. Furthermore, if you do NOT want to laugh, feel good, have some consolation if you feel down and out, and be generally uplifted, then do not go see this movie.
My Ratings: Good / 3½
—Chris Monroe, age 34
Positive—I agree with your reviewer’s comments. I thoroughly enjoyed this pleasant movie about a kind and caring single dad who falls for a very attractive and rather unusual woman, who turns out to be his brother’s new girlfriend. I guess this is a romantic comedy, and I did laugh a lot at the romantic predicaments and themes. However, it is also a fairly sober look at parenting of teenage girls in this immoral day and age. Dan does his best to train his daughters to be moral and self-respecting. He is a strict father, knowing that his strictness will make him unpopular with his girls. But that is the serious message of this movie, I think. It also deals with the complexity of sexual attraction and deciding when a romantic relationship actually becomes a love relationship. God bless Steve Carell for giving us another fairly clean movie (see also “Evan Almighty”). In Hollywood, that is not easy. This is a good movie, and I highly recommend it for teens and parents alike.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
Halyna Barannik, age 61
Positive—I took my 15 year old daughter to see this on opening night, and we both really enjoyed it. Many times we found ourselves laughing out loud with others in the audience. As a parent, I could relate to the father Dan wanting to protect his girls from interested teen boys. My daughter found the teenage girl her age in the film “over the top,” but funny. This movie values families, and we especially enjoyed seeing an extended family having a fun time together during a weekend reunion. As my husband’s family is large and noisy, we could relate to a houseful of interesting relatives, and the games and laughter that is part of our gatherings. Nothing offensive, save one small reference to “self love” that I am sure went over my daughter’s head. You really do care for the main character, Dan, as he finds new love after mourning the death of his wife four years earlier. It was great being able to share a movie with my daughter that we both liked, and that is clean, funny, and heartwarming. Go see this!
My Ratings: Good / 4
—Lynn, age 44
Positive—This is one of the best movies in the world! It is cute and funny. I think that it would be a good movie for kids, teens, and parents!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Micky, age 23
Positive—It is nice to view a show from Hollywood that doesn’t go over the edge.

The main character held to his values. It was tastefully done. A touch of sexual aerobics might be compromising. Take the movie as a whole and the point of the show and how it all tied together at the end, it was wholesome to me. I enjoyed the closeness and the interaction of the family. A sassy teen is rebuked. Not a lot of intense drama or excessive weird family members. Enjoyable under currents and tension between characters with not a lot of dialog. A shower scene was made without excessive nudity. The shots were head shots. I loved the complexity of the show, and how situations were handled. It might be boring to some for its lacks of violence, the sex, the hate, the evil that most worldly shows display. It is not a mindless comedy. The movie is a fair balance, with a touch of witty humor. Carell’s character is calmer from the past roles he has played. He’s rather quiet, trying to do his best, as a single dad, for his family. My husband, my 14 year old enjoyed it. It will make you smile.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Louise, age 47
Positive—Dan in Real Life is finally a movie that I feel comfortably taking all of my family to see together and know that everyone, including the 18 year olds and my husband, will have a great laugh. Steve Carell’s facial expressions make it all worth while. My husband and I, along with our 11 year old, 14 year old and 16 year old boys went together to see the movie. Right from the start, our teenage boys started to smile. The situations with Steve Carell’s children in the movie are exactly like what we go through on a regular basis with our children. Even the scene where he is making peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and honey and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made our boys laugh because we do the same thing everyday. Our children complain that they do not have any fun, and I believe this movie tells some of the sacrifice that parents go through for their children. Steve Carell is loyal to his family, he doesn’t complain when they give him the worst room, he doesn’t complain when he is the only one with no companion, he tries to entertain the younger children, he sets boundaries with his daughters, and he allows his family to give him advice and honors his parents. Even though he knows his brother is using his material with Binoche, he is not disrespectful of his brother. The scenes that made my family, including my husband, who doesn’t usually laugh at the movies, laugh out loud and loudly were:
1) when Steve Carell was trying to follow along with the family aerobics training,
2) when Steve Carell’s brothers are making fun of his upcoming blind date. My boys loved the depiction of a big family that loves each other, has a great time together and can make fun of each others flaws, and
3) when Steve Carell is trying to dance with his blind date.
Carell and Binoche’s facial expressions make the movie. Everyone in our theater was laughing and shouting things out loud like, “He’s still wearing bowling shoes!” You know people love and feel good about a movie when grown adults forget where they are and shout things out at the screen. There are a few sexual innuendos, but they were very mild. Take into account that there was no foul language, no guns and violence and killing, nothing but good, clean family relationships and fun. We left the movie wishing we could spend more time with our extended families and that our in-laws had more children. Great, funny movie and a must see for all adults and teens.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
—Theresa Millay, age 48
Positive—Entertaining and funny. My wife and I didn’t expect much but ended up having a really good time. This was a laugh-out-loud comedy that the whole audience seemed to enjoy. Steve Carell provided many comic moments, yet there was still a more serious and sentimental side to the story. Also pleasing was the lack of offensive content for a change. Overall, this was a clean movie that both teens and adults could enjoy. There was an emphasis on family. They should make more movies like this one. Recommended.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Todd Adams, age 40
Positive—Having been incredibly disappointed by a string of recently viewed films, I found myself weary of hoping for nothing remotely decent with this one. Sure, the trailer was charming, but so had the other trailers been… I was so incredibly surprised. Not only is this a sweet, poignantly touching film—but I sat there afterward trying to remember what had been so horrible that it warranted a PG-13 rating. I finally gathered it must have been language (though not much) and content… Really, this is a great film! A refreshing movie after a lot of junk that’s been in the theaters for so long now! A movie which promotes the sort of things we should be thinking about… (i.e.: family, loyalty, self respect, etc…)
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
Misty Wagner, age 31
Positive—My husband and I were disappointed with some of the innuendos and comments made through the film as well as the dancing scene in the bar, although watching Dan dance was so hysterical that it helped take our focus off of that. The shower scene, the exercise moves, and some of the family talk in the laundry room were inappropriate from a christian standpoint. We were disappointed in Dan when he chose to run off with Marie because we felt he betrayed his brother’s trust, but he definitely paid the consequences for that and then some. Dan was just so likeable, sincere, and funny that it made it easy to overlook some of this. He really was just an innocent guy trying to do good and just happened to fall in love with the same girl as his brother. It was nice to see how the brothers respected each other through the whole movie and how the family really loved and supported each other and worked through things quite well. They were very open with each other and forgiving. The movie was definitely somewhat offensive to us as christians but there was also a lot of innocence and good humor mixed in. There was a lot of laughter from the audience throughout the entire movie. We went away from this movie feeling good.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Cindy, age 47
Positive—I laughed tears streaming laughing. I felt sorry for and I loved the human nature of “Dan.” I also felt like this could happen, and when it came to raising girls probably will happen. Good movie.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 4
—Kelly, age 47
Positive—This film was enjoyable due to the incredible job done by the actors, the awkward situations that were rampant throughout the entire film and most of all, how true it was to real life. The title was very fitting for the film. While the situations in the film may have been a bit far fetched, they weren’t far enough to where you couldn’t see them happening in real life. The story of family and love is one of the better choices to make when selecting the film to see. Not only is this film humorous and fairly clean, it is also a “heart warming” feature film that is enjoyable on many levels. Two thumbs up.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Daniel Robison, age 19
Positive—This is an utterly delightful comedy for those, like me, who are sentimental old things when it comes to love. Dan (Steve Carell) is an advice columnist, a widower with three girls, two of whom are going through the “difficult” teenage phase. Visiting his parents for Thanksgiving, Dan meets the girl of his dreams (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore, and they fall in love. The problem is she turns out to be his brother’s new girlfriend. The other problem is that they are staying in the same family home over Thanksgiving so they can’t avoid each other. All of which leads to some very tense comic moments as they work out their embarrassment, like two birds trapped in a cage. Of course, all comes right in the end, but not after a rollercoaster emotional ride on the way.

Aided by a witty script and some fine acting, this film succeeds in just about everything it sets out to do. Critics have pointed out that things in real life don’t work out as nicely as this, but who always wants real life in a movie anyway? This is a real, enjoyable cinematic treat, a bit of light relief after the pretentious tedium of films like “I am Legend.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Ken Edwards, age 60, United Kingdom
Neutral—As far as humor goes, the movie was full of funny scenes that keep you laughing, but the shallow presentation of what love is and how “chemistry” seems to be the deciding factor, was typical for a Hollywood film that really doesn’t seek to teach and or reinforce healthy biblical values. While attraction is a valid aspect of the bonding that occurs as two people begin the move towards marriage (thankfully the movie ends with a ceremony of marriage) it would seem that once again, the chemistry is what won the day with the producers and with a public that is given to full expression of carnal freedoms. How insidious is the messages in contemporary film that would make shallow the precious gift of courtship and instead substitute a quickie instead.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Jay, age 48
Neutral—Dan Burns is an early 40’s widower with three gals ages 10-17. He is an advice columnist for a local paper and a full-time parent at home. He makes the kids lunches, drives them to school, and faithfully picks them up afterwards. The youngest girl is sweet and innocent, a good child who loves her father. The middle gal is a young teenager in the throes of youthful infatuations and simultaneously adolescence. In other words, she is very temperamental. There is only ONE scene where she is NOT rude, hostile, and downright insulting to her father. I do not like her character. Originally I chalked her up to just being a brat, which she is, but upon further reflection I realize her behavior is largely affected by the stage of growth she’s in. This is reaffirmed by the stark contrast set by her younger and older sisters who are perfectly calm and respectful of their father. The oldest gal is 17 and eager to drive. Dad is protective and naturally worries about her in today’s traffic, so she is relegated to the backseat until the very end of the movie.

On that note, please keep in mind that not every clip you see in a trailer makes it into the theatrical release. There is NO scene (as depicted in the previews) of the oldest driving out into traffic only to have cars screeching to a halt seconds later. Keep in mind, my fellow moviegoers, commercials and trailers are apt to show you things a little differently. I think with this movie’s trailer, the filmmakers were to trying to entice people into buying the image of Steve Carell in a light-hearted, family-oriented comedy. Well, it is—and then it isn’t. It’s very clean, content-wise. Indeed, there are a few funny parts, but they’re spaced out. There are also several dramatic elements, so it’s altogether safe to head this flick with the increasingly popular portmanteau “dramedy.” Or perhaps “romantic dramedy” is the best term. In any event, Dan in Real Life works well in this vein, venturing into quasi-slapstick just once in a scene where Dan rolls off the roof and lands on the bushes. No one notices of course, despite the deafening thud.

The story takes off when Dan and his kids jet off to his parents’ home for a big family reunion. His siblings and their significant others are there, including Dane Cook as the bachelor brother. Cook’s girlfriend Marie joins the fun, but unbeknownst to Cook, she met Dan hours earlier in a chance encounter at a bookstore where the two of them hit it off quite well (which is surprising because Dan is extremely one-sided—when someone meets you for the first time, don’t proceed to give them your unabridged life story). Needless to say, Dan had no idea this wonderful gal is in fact his hermano’s novia. Tensions and infatuations mount as the next three days unfold with Dan and Marie trying to cope with their secret feelings for one another.

At one point, Dan is set up on a blind date with an ol’ acquaintance, and just moments before his date arrives, his family is gathered around the piano singing about her in what turns out to be a very funny scene. Dan, uneasy about the blind date, is accompanied by his brother and Marie. The four go to a bar, and a ridiculous night ensues in which Dan does everything he can to make Marie jealous. The next day, Marie gets back at Dan by serving him burnt pancakes and sacking him in football. The two roll around on one another, and by this point, their flirting is picked up by virtually everyone but Cook (naturally). Everything backfires on poor Dan when Marie decides that night it’s too much to be living a lie with Cook, and so she takes off early the next morning. Later, she phones and meets up with Dan at a bowling alley where the two of them, whilst in the middle of a warm embrace, are ratted out by the entire family. At this point, Cook socks Dan, Marie flees the scene, and eventually everyone goes home where the rest of Dan’s day falls apart, including his coveted shot of getting syndicated. Within a day, the brothers sort of patch their rift as Cook is seen darting off with Dan’s blind date. Just like that—it’s too surreal but a real possibility nonetheless. It’s suggested in an earlier scene that Cook’s “been around” and never really settled down. So that’s that. Cook bounces back from his breakup with Marie and moves on faster than a german shepherd on a ham sandwich. And as for Dan? Well, the end of the movie is formulaic and I needn’t spell it out.

The movie works well on many down-to-earth levels: Dan is the picture of the lonely man that wanders around the house when everyone else is having fun. The adults all come in pairs, and the children all play by themselves. In one scene, Dan goes out to the shore to join his nephews throwing rocks, but he is greeted rather unenthusiastically, so he turns around and chucks a huge rock in frustration before finally leaving. At night, Dan sleeps alone in the laundry room while others share a room with their spouse or brother or sister. In some ways, it’s symbolic of his life: everyone else, including one of his daughters, is with someone, while Dan is left on his own to raise his girls. Even though his wife passed away 4 years ago, he is still feels a lot of pain and sadness. When he meets Marie, he feels new life and passion breathe through him once again. He falls head over heels and is always tongue-tied when he talks to her. Our hero is caught in a struggle between loyalty to his brother and a desire to be with Marie.

Steve Carell does a wonderful job of bringing this life and a superb level of humanness to Dan’s character. I think Carell works best in this kind of role as opposed to his regular routine. Unlike other funny guys (e.g. Jim Carrey), he makes the switch to a normal, everyday, average Joe flawlessly. If anything, Carell seems a little strained—like he’s trying too hard to be funny—in his comedies but is a natural in this role.

While this is a very pro-family film, God is absent in the character’s lives. In no way is He mentioned or sought after when the characters have troubles. Instead they rely solely on their families, love, patience, and mutual understanding to sort things out; this is all fine and dandy, but in a film that dares to exclude most Hollywoodized content, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to include the Father in the picture, even in something as simple as a heart-to-heart prayer from Dan.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Jacob Keenum, age 21
Neutral—My husband and I rented this movie without knowing anything about the premise of the movie. While we enjoyed the acting and laughed at a lot of parts, a lot of it was too much for me to take and actually quite frustrating. Something that I “enjoyed” about the movie was just how “real” Dan was, at least. I related to him and his being the “outcast” throughout the entire movie, but it also was very depressing. I cried several times because I’ve known exactly how he felt, and a lot of times the way his family treated him was outright wrong. So his was a realistic, human character, but I felt like the rest of his family was not. There is no way everyone else in the rest of that huge family never had any problems—no arguments between his two oldest teenage daughters (I am the oldest of three, and my sister and I are very close in age), no fights between any of the older siblings (until the source of Dan’s frustration is revealed—to the entire family), no problems with the parents and ANY of their children, I mean—nothing! Not real! Dan was the only real character, and most of what happened to him was so sad and depressing. It was annoying that the entire time, Dan was the “only one” who had issues. Everyone else was just an angel! I found myself telling him to just go for a walk, just leave the group for a while… what I would do feeling the way he felt throughout the majority of the film. Some things that frustrated me: Dan tells his daughter, 'You can’t know you love someone after three days,' but ends up eating his words, which were actually good and biblical, when he ends up doing that very thing. It appears as though he falls in love with Marie in about two hours. Marie, while a very fun, interesting person, was also someone who was very flippant about her current relationship with Mitch and didn’t seem to care at all most of the time about Dan’s feelings, even though she reveals later that she is feeling the same way. She is a flirt with him and just laughs at him while he is struggling to figure out what to do. At one point in the movie, Dan’s mom says, 'One mistake you didn’t make was falling in love with Marie,' and my husband was like, 'No, that was a big mistake.' All of the emotional turmoil Dan is going through is mostly the result of infatuation, not love. I couldn’t stand watching how terribly his daughters treated him. He wasn’t the best dad, but I was wishing throughout the entire movie that someone would just listen to him. For such a “great” family, that never, ever happened. Yes, Dan messed up—but so did the rest of his family, who mostly seemed to think of themselves as “better” than him and more 'well-behaved.' I just saw a bunch of hypocrites. His daughter Cara especially was a huge brat throughout the entire movie, and the only person that ever checks her behavior is her dad. Marie even calls her ridiculous antics after her boyfriend leaves “sweet.” I wanted to see Dan connect with his daughters—I felt like there were several times where that could have happened, but they didn’t love him well either, and cut him short. The worst part is probably the “blind date” his family sets up for him to “fix” his problem. The entire family literally makes fun of this woman right up until she shows up at the door. What follows is an awkward and very messed up double date, where Dan and Marie try to “one-up” each other and make one another jealous. This is quite realistic, but it ends on a really sad note: Dan goes home with Ruthie, and we all know what happens. This was the most morally disappointing aspect, and yet his family thinks its fine and dandy. I guess this movie was just halfway good for me. I related to Dan, I loved the acting by Steve Carrell and I felt like this movie addressed so many good issues, but fell short time and time again. Close to the end of the movie I was very choked up by the entire situation (after Dan gets caught), but then the way the movie ends was so fast and weird and unreal… I feel like the entire family might need a little bit more time to heal over what happened (catching Dan and Marie) than one night. As a discerning Christian I think there are a lot of things one could glean from and talk about with this movie, but overall I think it dumbs down some really serious issues and leaves one with patched-up “solutions” to really complicated problems. I also feel like this movie is kind of “making things okay” in its own subtle way; however, this movie is a lot better than most movies I’ve seen in the last several years. It’s just sad to me that I want to watch movies, even cleaner ones like this, less and less.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Nichole, age 27
Negative—We just switched off this movie—I found it extremely offensive. We watched it with our 2 boys 11 and 6. What’s more amazing is all the reviews on this Christian site, how we take one night stands for granted and treat extramarital sex and dating so casually. There were plenty of bad scenes including the shower and aerobics one. Don’t see this movie please, save your money!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1
—Glynis, age 39
Comments from young people
Neutral—Morally, this movie was actually very good. The infamous exercise and shower scenes were not played out too much, and while Dan makes some wrong moral choices, he is overall a good, albeit not perfect, person. However, aside from the Christian point of view, I found the movie too depressing. There were too few laughs for it to be really considered a comedy, and the humor was derived from making Dan as miserable as possible. My opinion: rent a DVD and watch it. Theater viewing and purchasing the DVD are not worth it in the long run.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Nathan, age 15