Dan in Real Life (PG)

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The Independent Culture

Steve Carell proves, as he did in Little Miss Sunshine, that he can mix sadness into the slapstick in this gentle family comedy. He plays advice columnist Dan, a widower trying to keep his three daughters happy – two of them are teenagers – and now facing a challenge even his own moral reflex doesn't know how to handle. He has accidentally fallen in love with Marie (Juliette Binoche), who has just started going out with his jock brother (Dane Cook) – and now he must conceal his heartache during a family get-together.

Peter Hedges has dealt with this kind of material before in his indie hit Pieces of April; with a bigger budget and stars there's a more obvious struggle to hold off theschmaltz. On the plus side Carell makes an enjoyable meal of his romantic travails – there's one great bit of farce in the shower – and Binoche is more relaxed and funny than one might expect of an art-house femme serieuse. The look she gives a local beauty (Emily Blunt – far too young for the part) when she comes on to Dan at a bar is a frosty classic. It passes the time agreeably – 10 times more agreeably than Charlie Wilson's War.