Dan in Real Life (2007)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 1; L- 2; S/N-4 . Running time: 1 hour 39 min.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in
humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Ephesians 4:25

The two brothers who love the same woman.
(c) 2007 Touchstone Pictures

Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a newspaper advice columnist who is a widower struggling to raise three daughters: Jane (Alison Pill), Cara (Brittany Robertson), and Lily (Marlene Lawston). Two of them are teenagers, so neither would pay attention to any advice from their father. Jane recently earned her driver’s license and cannot understand why her father will not let her take the wheel during their annual Thanksgiving trip to her grandparents. Cara thinks she is passionately in love and deeply resents her father’s interference. Only the younger Lily still looks up to Dad, and that soon will be changed during the long weekend at her grandparents’ sumptuous seaside home.

Dan meets the gorgeous Marie (Binoche) at the village bookstore, and the two become so drawn to each other that they spend an hour or more talking over coffee. She gives him her card for further contact when they part, but it will not be needed. Imagine Dan’s surprise when his play-the-field brother arrives with the new girl friend he has told everyone will be his true love at last—who is, of course, Marie. If you enjoyed Steve Carell in Evan Almighty, you should even more in this romantic comedy in which he and Juliette Binoche try to hide their feelings as the family, happy that their playboy son has found his mate, falls in love with Marie. How can the pair spend so much time that weekend without revealing their attraction for each other and thus spoil things for Mitch and family? And what about all those problems with his daughters?

In the midst of the large amount of violent films (many of which are first rate) flooding our theaters, it is good to have a good family film to divert our attention. The fine cast is rounded out by Dianne Wiest as Nana and John Mahoney as Poppy, the grandparents. Director Peter Hedges is also co-writer (with Pierce Gardner) of this light hearted tale in which truth and honesty are held in tension against the desire not to hurt a loved one.

For Reflection/Discussion

Contains what could be spoilers.

1) What is Dan’s relationship with his three daughters? Typical? How does he seem to have coped with his becoming a widower? How is his profession similar to that of a pastor’s?

2) What do you think of the boyfriend’s observation, “Love is not a feeling, it’s an ability” ? Compare this with what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13. How does Dan come to understand this?

3) What room is Dan put into for the weekend at his parents? How does this add to his feeling of exclusion?

4) What might you do in Dan’s place when his brother arrives and introduces Marie? How is his and Marie’s deception motivated by good? Perhaps similar to what the apostle wrote in Philippians 2? And yet misguided? How have you seen that truth almost always emerges in such situations involving family?

5) At what other points in the story do we see characters concerned for others? Who gets to drive out of necessity at the end?

6) What career move is Dan anticipating? How does he, when the moment arrives, show that his values are intact?

7) At what points in the story do you see your own family or an incident connect with your own experience? Where do you see God in the story?