While trying to decide which movie's critic to critique, I ran into Mick LaSalle's reviews on just about every movie I checked, and they were consistently negative. Needless to say I was surprised and hopelessly intrigued when I saw he'd given "Dan in Real Life" a 100 on Metacritic and commenced to click the small 'Read Full Review' link below what may be one of the best descriptions of a movie I've ever read.
Dan in Real Life fires on so many circuits that at times it's actually shocking how good it is.
And the praise doesn't stop there. He continues;
It tells a funny and emotional story without any of the sentimental shorthand found in most romantic comedies. And though its level of sheer comic craftsmanship dwarfs most contenders, it doesn't feel in any way constructed. It feels intuitive and inspired, a film of humanity and insight.
While I may have disagreed with a heavy majority of LaSalle's reviews, this time he truly is putting my very thoughts into words (albeit, considerably more eloquently than I could ever muster).
For those who have not yet basked in the glory that is "Dan in Real Life", Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a windowed newspaper advice columnist who rounds up his three daughters for a family reunion at his parents' house in Rhode Island. The following day, due to a fortunate misunderstanding in a library, he finds himself completely enraptured by a woman for the first time in years. Managing to walk away with her number in hand he is absolutely ecstatic.
Enter Mitch (Dane Cook). Dan's younger brother.
Enter Marie (Juliette Binoche). Mitch's new girlfriend and the woman from the library.
Throughout the movie Dan attempts to smother his feelings for Marie, not wanting to cause any bad blood between himself and his sweet, little brother who seems to have found true love for the first time. Hilarity ensues in order to soften the wrenching of heart strings as we watch Dan's silent struggle.
Seem typical, overdone and predictable? I give the stage once again to LaSalle;
Even if you end up guessing where the story eventually goes, its path is so eccentric that each turn in the journey comes as a surprise. And most of the surprises are very funny. This is impressive comic writing.
It truly was a beautifully done movie, and simply reading Mick LaSalle's review and raving about it myself has me itching to go see it again. The relationship that blossomed between Dan and Marie was refreshingly believable and realistic. The relationship was not solely lust-driven (though Binoche truly is a natural beauty) and the jokes were not sleazy, crude-humor but because the movie utilizes Murphy's 'whatever can go wrong, will go wrong' law so well and the events and emotions allow you to really connect with Carell's character.
The chemistry between characters was riveting--and not just between Carell and Binoche--but the entire cast. It was a treat to see Dianne West playing Dan's mother, and while some (LaSalle included; "Brittany Robertson is comically adept as the rebellious, lovesick middle daughter - though Hedges allows her to be a bit too shrill and writes her as too much of a repellent, hateful brat.") felt that the middle daughter, Cara, played by Brittany Robertson was a bit over exaggerated, I didn't have the same problem and enjoyed her performance in its entirety.
I really enjoyed reading Mick LaSalle's review on this movie--though we disagreed on countless films he is by no means a bad critic and gives praise when and where it is due, as well as the proper critique. He shows a clear understanding of how shot positioning and timing can effectively draw on the right emotion at the right time as shown when he points out;
In one scene, Dan opens a door and finds his youngest daughter having a conversation with Marie. He'd love to join them, but he knows he shouldn't, and the camera emphasizes his longing by hanging back with him and not moving in for a tight shot of the daughter. Such psychological perception and sensitive intelligence characterize Hedges' work throughout, and the result is one of the half-dozen best American films so far this year.
If you haven't seen this movie, both I and Mick LaSalle highly recommend it.