Dan in Real Life

The best romcom of the fall and maybe the year.

"Plan . . . to be surprised."

Those are the last words of advice column writer Dan Burns (Steve Carell) has in Dan In Real Life, as true a bit of advice as he probably ever gave to his readers. For us viewers, there are no surprises in a classic setup where Dan has met a potential love, Marie (Juliette Binoche), only to discover she is his brother, Mitch's (Dane Cook) new girlfriend. What is surprising is that such an ordinary romcom should be the best romcom of the fall and maybe the year.

Dan In Real Life is the real deal about a single father of three very alive girls who hasn't found anyone in the four years since his late wife's sudden death. Although he's doing a credible job bringing up his babies (two teens and a pre-teen), they are independent minded and remind him of how authoritarian and clueless he is. And how he needs to fall in love. Fair enough for all of us who have been there because girls are merciless critics, far outstripping the most caustic film critic (sometimes this writer).

So, when at the family holiday on the Rhode Island shore he faces the reality that he loves his brother's girl, no easy solution, so easy in Hollywood terms, arises. The frustrations of two people in the wrong place but in love are gently woven into set pieces straight out of Royal Tenenbaums and Little Miss Sunshine, you know, the family skit showcasing the family eccentrics everyone, that kind of cuteness that comes off quite nicely to counterbalance the awkward moments, plenty of them, for Dan in the presence and absence of Marie.

Besides the deft touch of a director (Peter Hedges) who proved himself nimble with family in Pieces of April, the cast is perfect, no one more so than Carell, whose deadpan everyman with a leprechaun's reserves of charm has turned out to be what Jim Carey and Robin Williams often try to be?funny and loveable and flawed. No surprise?Carell has it all, even in real life.