Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a newspaper advice columnist, a widower, and a controlling father to his children Jane (Alison Pill), Cara (Brittany Robertson) and, Lilly (Marlene Lawston) in the New Jersey suburbs. His column is in contention to be syndicated nationally. The family takes a trip to the Rhode Island home of his parents (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) to visit his family—including his New York City-based brother, Mitch (Dane Cook), a personal trainer—for an annual family get together. Cara does not want to go, as she does not want to leave her boyfriend Marty (Felipe Dieppa) whom she claims to have fallen in love with in just three days. But Dan insists that it is not possible to fall in love in three days and makes her go. The morning after his arrival, Dan's mother encourages him to go into town for a bit to give his daughters some space. Dan visits a bookstore and a customer named Marie (Juliette Binoche) mistakes him for an employee. Dan and Marie have an obvious connection and continue to talk over breakfast. Marie agrees to meet with Dan again before leaving but tells Dan that she has a boyfriend. Dan returns to his parents' house and happily announces he has met someone new, only to find that Marie is there, her boyfriend being Dan's brother, Mitch.
Dan and Marie spend the majority of their time trying to deny their attraction to each other. Dan even agrees to a date with Ruthie Draper, a childhood friend of Dan and Mitch's who comes to visit and is now a surgeon. Cara's boyfriend shows up despite the long journey but is sent home by Dan. Cara chases the car and cries and calls out, "You are a murderer of love!" to Dan when Marty is out of sight. During a family talent show, Dan plays guitar while Mitch sings Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door." But Mitch forgets the words, and Dan steps in, serenading Marie in front of his brother. Marie is unable to continue to deny her feelings for Dan, and she breaks up with Mitch, which makes him distraught. Before leaving town, she calls Dan, and they meet at a bowling alley. After spending some time bowling, Marie and Dan end up kissing. At this point, Dan's family shows up at the bowling alley. Surprised and infuriated at Dan for his betrayal, Mitch punches Dan in the face and Marie runs out.
A short time later, Dan finally meets with a father and daughter who run the newspaper media company. His family sits in on the meeting. Lost at what he has experienced, the meeting turns awkward but unresolved. Dan talks to his daughters and admits he is in love with Marie, even though he has only known her three days. Encouraged by his parents and the three girls, he goes after Marie. The film ends with Dan and his three daughters in New York City where they find Marie at her gym and the two make eye contact, to a voiceover in which Dan narrates his first column to his readers, indicating that he indeed was chosen by the newspaper media company to have his column nationally syndicated.
The ending scene in the film shows Dan and Marie descending the steps of his parents' home and dancing following their wedding. Mitch is seen happily dancing with Ruthie Draper, and Cara is happily dancing with her boyfriend Marty.
- Steve Carell as Dan Burns
- Alison Pill as Jane Burns, eldest daughter of Dan
- Brittany Robertson as Cara Burns, second daughter of Dan
- Marlene Lawston as Lilly Burns, youngest daughter of Dan
- Dane Cook as Mitch Burns, Dan's brother
- Juliette Binoche as Anne Marie Diamond, Mitch's girlfriend and Dan's love interest
- John Mahoney as John "Poppy" Burns, Dan's father
- Dianne Wiest as "Nana" Burns, Dan's mother
- Norbert Leo Butz as Clay Burns, Dan's brother
- Amy Ryan as Eileen Burns, Clay's wife
- CJ Adams as Elliot Burns, Clay and Eileen's younger son
- Jessica Hecht as Amy Burns, Dan's sister
- Frank Wood as Howard Wilson, Amy's husband
- Emily Blunt as Dr. Ruthie "Pigface" Draper
- Felipe Dieppa as Marty Barasco, Cara's boyfriend
- Bernie McInerney as James Lamson, newspaper proprietor
- Amy Landecker as Cindy Lamson, newspaper editor
- Matthew Morrison as Policeman
- Stephen Mellor as Bookstore Clerk
Box office performance
The film opened October 26, 2007 in the United States and Canada and grossed $11.8 million in 1,921 theaters its opening weekend, ranking #2 at the box office. As of February 2, 2011, it has grossed $68,377,859.
The film received generally positive reaction from film critics. As of May 1, 2008 on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film received positive reviews from 64% of its critics based on 154 reviews, and received a "fresh" rating. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 65 out of 100, based on 34 reviews, indicating generally favorable reviews.
Time magazine's Richard Schickel named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #10, calling it a “sweet, yet tangy dessert” and Steve Carell’s performance “wonderful”.
The opening scene was in New Jersey and then Rhode Island in the cities of Newport, East Greenwich, West Greenwich, Jamestown, Westerly, and Providence in November and December 2006. The opening scene was filmed at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence. However, the facade of the building and the interior are altered. When Dan is pulled over by the Rhode Island State Police, he is on Ocean Ave. in Newport. In scenes filmed in Jamestown, two bridges are clearly visible: the Jamestown Bridge and its replacement, the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge. Demolition of the Jamestown Bridge was initiated on April 18, 2006. The film also cast local residents of neighboring towns and citites constiting of Middletown, North Kingstown and North Providence as Dan's nieces and nephews.
The date scene was filmed in two different places in Westerly. The inside shots were filmed at Alley Katz Bowling center, while the exterior shots were filmed at Misquamicut Beach. What is now the Windjammer was dressed to look like the outside of the bowling center. The sunset scene with the entire family on the beach was filmed at Napatree Point in Westerly.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche composed the majority of the music in the film, and has a cameo appearance in a scene at the end.
Full soundtrack listing:
- "Family Theme Waltz" - Sondre Lerche
- "To Be Surprised" - Sondre Lerche
- "I'll Be OK" - Sondre Lerche
- "Dan and Marie Picking Hum" - Sondre Lerche
- "My Hands Are Shaking" - Sondre Lerche
- "Dan in Real Life" - Sondre Lerche
- "Hell No" - Sondre Lerche and Regina Spektor
- "Family Theme" - Sondre Lerche
- "Fever" - A Fine Frenzy
- "Airport Taxi Reception" - Sondre Lerche and The Faces Down Quartet
- "Dan and Marie Melody" - Sondre Lerche
- "Human Hands" - Sondre Lerche and The Faces Down Quartet
- "I'll Be OK" (Instrumental Reprise) - Sondre Lerche
- "Let My Love Open The Door" - Pete Townshend
- "Dan and Marie Finale Theme" - Sondre Lerche
- "Modern Nature" - Sondre Lerche and Lillian Samdal
- "Ruthie Pigface Draper" (bonus track) - Dane Cook and Norbert Leo Butz, taken from a scene in the movie
"Mr. Blue Sky" by the Electric Light Orchestra is featured in the TV and radio advertisements for the movie, as well as "Let My Love Open the Door" by Pete Townshend and "Henrietta" by The Fratellis. The club mix of Inaya Day's "Nasty Girl" is also featured in one scene in the movie but is not on the soundtrack. "Human Hands" written by Elvis Costello (original version appears on his album Imperial Bedroom).
- Despite being distributed by Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is credited at the end of the film.
- Official website at the Wayback Machine (archived October 8, 2007)
- Dan in Real Life at Rotten Tomatoes
- Dan in Real Life at Metacritic
- Dan in Real Life at Box Office Mojo
- Dan in Real Life at AllRovi
- Dan in Real Life DVD and Blu-ray Official Site
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