Here’s my theory about why Hollywood films about young widows (Jerry Maguire, Starman) tend to emphasize drama and sorrow, whereas movies about young widowers (Sleepless in Seattle, My Girl) are usually romantic comedies: A woman without a man is, by movie-industry definition, an object of pity, and a widow has a sadder backstory than most. A widower, on the other hand, is just another guy trying to win a girl-and we all know the silly lengths to which men will go in that quest.
And that issue is probably my only quibble with the delightful Dan in Real Life. Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a widowed advice columnist who’s struggling mightily not to let his three daughters grow up too fast. Four years after his wife’s death, his parents and siblings worry that he’s still pining away. Then, while he and his girls are spending a weekend with the family, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) and is instantly smitten. Soon after, Dan discovers that Marie is his shallow brother Mitch’s (Dane Cook) new girlfriend, whom he has brought along on the trip. Dan and Marie gamely try to soldier on, but their feelings for each other keep getting in the way. Will Dan be able to do the right thing, or even figure out what that is?
Witty dialogue and sharp performances make the premise feel fresh. Carell conveys Dan’s charm and his genuine anguish over wanting what he can’t have, alongside his gift for physical comedy. Refreshingly, Marie-in addition to being beautiful-is smart, funny, and adventurous. Brittany Robertson, as Dan’s precocious middle daughter, Cara, is dead-on as a lovesick teen infuriated by her dad’s repeated attempts to foil her budding romance.
Finally, for anyone who’s ever suffered through a family visit that felt like a forced march, the Burns clan is a treasure. The family spends the weekend in crossword competitions, talent shows, and outdoor activities-there’s not an Xbox, Blackberry, or television in sight. When his brothers tease Dan about a blind date, it turns
into a musical production. It’s clear from watch-ing this crew why Dan’s advice is always “put family first.”