It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Steve Carell of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" has a personality, or maybe it is a lack of personality, that is growing on me. He is content to exist on the screen without sending wild semaphores of his intentions, his uniqueness and how funny he is. He's an everyman like a very (very) low-key Jack Lemmon. That makes him right for a romantic comedy like "Dan in Real Life," during which he isn't expected to go over the top, but be just romantic and funny enough, you see, to let the situation work on its own terms.
He plays Dan Burns, a newspaper advice columnist, whose wife died four years before. He's raising three girls on his own, two teenagers and a pre-teen, and he must be doing a good job because they treat him like a slightly slow brother. At Thanksgiving, he takes them all to Rhode Island, where his parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest) own a vast, rambling brown-shingled beach house you probably couldn't touch for $20 million. Since Mahoney's big job is wearing an apron in the kitchen, it's hard to see him as a guy owning that kind of real estate. Maybe he inherited. Also on hand is Dan's brother Mitch (Dane Cook).
Dan goes into town in the afternoon and runs into Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore. They begin one of those conversations that threatens to continue for a lifetime. It's not love at first sight, but it's intrigue, approval and yearning. She supplies her phone number. That evening, brother Mitch brings his girlfriend home and, yes, it's Marie.
That's the setup, and the movie deals with how to fit all those conflicting emotions into the house. Good thing it's big enough for lots of secret conversations on the move; the fact that social rules forbid them to declare their growing love make Marie and Dan feel all the more like blurting it out. Binoche is superb at looking upon her new man with the regret she'd feel for a puppy she can't adopt.