Dan in Real Life

Dan in Real Life is about Dan Burns, a newspaper columnist that writes about his life as a widow and father to three daughters. During their annual vacation at his parent’s cabin, he meets a woman (Marie) in a bookstore that he instantly connects with. But she’s already in a relationship — with Dan’s brother Mitch, as it turns out. Just as there seems to be no place for Dan in Marie’s love life, the entire film explores Dan’s lack of place in his family: all the couples sleep in rooms while he is relegated to the basement cot; his relationship with his daughters strains as he struggles with their growing independence; his ability to connect with his nieces and nephews is burdened by his swing-and-a-miss attempts to take them to fun places. Throughout, he tries and fails to ignore his feelings for Marie, the woman in the bookstore.

Despite Marie showing a marked lack of agency in the first half of the film, Dan in Real Life manages to avoid the tropes of a feel-good family film. Dan’s loss of his wife feels real and complicated, not just something stopping him from “true love” with Marie. He struggles to connect with everyone around him, seeming to exist on a different plane and acting out as part of it. And the only person to see through his estrangement is his youngest daughter, who he increasingly ignores when he needs her most.

The film’s end seems to fumble its emotional gravitas as everything falls neatly and abruptly into place. Right as I was convinced it could say something serious, it took shortcuts to thoughtful answers and wrapped it up with music and smiles. Perhaps there’s a place for that, but watching Steve Carell bring real depth to his character only to get swept into a campy happily-ever-after certainly felt dissatisfying.



Release Date
October 26, 2007
Joshua J. Daymude
Joshua J. Daymude
Assistant Professor, Computer Science

I am a Christian and assistant professor in computer science studying collective emergent behavior and programmable matter through the lens of distributed computing, stochastic processes, and bio-inspired algorithms. I also love gaming and playing music.