I had the chance to watch Dan in Real Life, starring Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche, this week, and may I just say that I'm beginning to think Steve Carell can play whatever role he chooses? The man has displayed some range, people, range that you often don't see in a "comedic" actor. This tendency reminds me a bit of Jim Carrey, but I think that Carell's style is subtler and funnier.
In this movie, Carell plays Dan, a widowed newspaper-advice columnist with three daughters. Dan has carried a torch for his late wife since her death (which was four years prior to the events of the movie). As the film opens, Dan is bundling his little family up for an annual visit to his parents' house. Once there, he makes a short errand into town, where he meets Marie (Binoche) in a book shop. The two feel an instant connection, and they sit and talk for hours. Later that evening, Dan is more formally introduced to Marie. She's his brother's new girlfriend. (Ouch.)
During the days that follow, we watch Dan as he breaks down personal and professional barriers, learns more about what it means to put family first, and actually begins listening to some of his own advice.
Carell and Binoche, I thought, were both wonderful in this, and the script taps into something that many screenwriters fail to give enough credit to - women love men who make them laugh. Comedians can play romantic leads, if they are allowed to use the aspect of their personalities that makes them (in some cases) most attractive - their senses of humor. People make jokes all the time, and at least SOME of them are really funny. We don't see enough of such light banter in film, probably because it plays best when ad-libbed, and in scripts it seems so often over-rehearsed.
Carell perfectly captures the sort of giddy, joking high that one gets when one finds a kindred spirit. Dan and Marie make each other laugh, and they think the same things are funny. (Incidentally, Carell and Binoche have great chemistry in their scenes together.) This is a warm, funny story, and it's perfectly suited for family viewing. (It's got a PG-13 rating.)
I look forward to future incarnations of Steve Carell.