The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: Dan In Real Life

Pain is relative, duh. On the scale of human suffering, my Sunday nights are ICE CREAM SOCIALS. That doesn’t mean that I don’t actually cry out in pain during some of these movies. I do. But I recognize that there’s a difference between watching these movies and, say, watching these movies with the Janjaweed. The same thing could be said for the movies themselves. Orlando Bloom sure does a lot of bitching and moaning in Elizabethtown for someone who has a loving family and seems to easily make friends with everyone he meets. I’m not saying that every movie needs to explore the horrors of Darfur, but as a person who primarily lives his selfish life in a bubble of self-involvement floating on a breeze of instant gratification, I recognize that maybe that bubble needs to be popped every once in awhile, and find myself exhausted and annoyed by having to spend an hour and a half in someone else’s. Which brings us to Dan in Real Life, a bubble in desperate need of so much popping.

Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a popular parenting advice columnist raising his three daughters on his own. As the movie begins, he loads the girls into his old Mercedes station wagon and drives them to his parents’ house because “this is the only time we get to spend all together as a family.” There is no indication on WHY this is the only time they get to spend all as a family, because it’s not Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other discernible holiday. Whatever. What a kooky family! On his first morning at the house, Dan goes out to get the morning papers for what is the first in a series of unbearable Burns family traditions. At the local bookstore, he meets Juliette Binoche and flirts with her, and they end up having a clichéd long talk about everything under the sun (see: Elizabethtown). But just when the sad widower thinks he may have found someone he’s interested in, it turns out that Juliette Binoche is actually Dan’s brother Mitch’s (Dane Cook) girlfriend. Oh no! Since they’re both in their 40s, they understand and respect the adult nature of human relationships and choose to be respectful of each others boundaries. The end. JUST KIDDING. They act like weird petulant teenagers, family chaos ensues, Dane Cook is so mad but also a womanizer, so in the end everything is OK and Steve Carell gets to have sex and marriage with Juliette Binoche. Perfect.

If you can make it through this whole clip you win a prize!

The prize is not having to watch the rest of the movie.

It is a TESTAMENT to how GOOD Steve Carell is that he comes away from this movie unscathed. Because it would be an unmitigated disaster for almost anyone else. He’s so charming and likable that you are able to chalk it up to a misguided FAIL, which would not be said if the role of Dan Burns was played by, say, Colin Farrell, or Jude Law. Similarly, it is a TESTAMENT to how BAD the movie is that Dane Cook is the least of its problems. Oh, he is awful, with his smirks and the way that he spastically overacts things like enjoying pancakes. But he is like a drop of poop in an ocean of poop.

The entire movie is predicated on two premises:

  1. That Juliette Binoche’s character is the ideal woman.
  2. That the Burns family is the ideal family.

The problem with these two premises is this:

  1. No, she’s not.
  2. No, they’re not.

As someone who comes from a relatively large extended family that likes to spend time together, I’m not alien to the idea of people loving each other or whatever, BUT THIS IS RIDICULOUS. As mentioned in the synopsis earlier, the first morning in the house, Dan is sent on an errand for the morning papers. Plural. Two of the same paper. The reason being that the men and the women in the household split into two teams and compete to see who can complete the puzzle first. This is but the first in an endless string of insufferable family activities that everyone partakes in without hesitation. What are they trying to do? Be in all the yearbook photos?

Take it easy, Max Fischer.

For a movie about the complexity of the human heart, all of the emotions are too easily unearned. Dan is sad and complicated because his wife died and even if we don’t bother exploring that, we know that it’s a sad and complicated thing, the end. Juliette Binoche is the ideal woman because she shops in bookstores and has a French accent, even if she met her current boyfriend at the gym and has the moral lassitude to fool around with his brother at their first meeting, in front of his entire family. And, of course, the rest of the Burns Family are loving and close knit and make a big deal about it because how else could you explain their seeming tolerance of each other despite all evidence to their total intolerableness.

To be fair, this movie did have one funny moment. That’s not a lot, even for a dramedy, and I am pretty sure Steve Carell adlibbed himself, but credit where credit is due. It comes at the end of this otherwise typically unbearable Burns Family dinner in which isn’t everyone so charming and warm and the worst?

Most of this clip is again indicative of the lazy characterizations of this movie. Dane Cook told Juliette Binoche that he thought he’d died because there was an angel in the room? That wouldn’t even work on Matador, but everyone thinks it’s so romantic. And to make matters worse, later in the movie when Juliette Binoche is reading Steve Carell’s book it turns out that HE WROTE THAT LINE and DANE COOK STOLE IT. So they’re both lame. But “this corn is like an angel” is funny. Although not quite as funny as this animated GIF of Juliette Binoche having “an important realization” on a treadmill.


Next week: Lost in Space. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.