Dan in Real Life (2007)
The romantic comedy is not a genre that traditionally has been blessed with the most innovative filmmakers. Often, the romance is too far removed from a situation which the average viewer can identify with and the comedy which is put on top is trite. Dan in Real Life has also got its fair share of incredibilities and recirculated segments, but the framework and tone Peter Hedges creates for his protagonist is both refreshing and moving. Dan, as portrayed by Steve Carell, is a character with recognizable human flaws and characteristics. Carell's performance is surprisingly and appropriately low key, and the often hilarious comedian here exhibits a delicate ability of delivering subtle reactions to the array of situations he finds himself in throughout Dan in Real Life.
Even if the romantic storyline, which is indeed the main storyline in this film, may seem constructed at first (or rather second) glance, the evocative setting in Dan in Real Life gives it a familiarity and intimacy which makes this an enjoyable experience. The means here are basically two: One is Hedges' decision to set almost the entire film in connection with a big family get-together at the old folks' house in semi-rural surroundings. The result is a John Irving-ish, snug atmosphere which makes you long for your in-laws. At times, there seems to be too much warmth, but Carell's black sheepish persona keeps it balanced.
The other is the score by my fellow countryman Sondre Lerche. It is a stripped and minimalistic guitar-based soundtrack in the vein of Cat Stevens' work for Harold and Maude. Although the music isn't among the catchiest or even most qualitative Lerche has done, it does give the film a fine backdrop from which to construct its often amusing and touching narrative. Atypically for the romantic comedy, it isn't actually the principal relationship between which provides the film with its best moments, but rather many of Hedges' other observations on parenting and family life in general - the best of which is the well-acted and amusingly bumby relationship between Dan and his three daughters.