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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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On my first viewing of Dan in Real Life, I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet, romantic comedy-drama, the loving extended family, the vacation home by the ocean. On the second viewing, the plot contrivances started to show through. The family, the house — it all seemed a little too perfect. But sometimes we watch movies for an idealized version of life. The characters and their world were appealing enough that I enjoyed visiting them again.

Dan on Vacation

Daughter helps Dan set his life on track
Daughter helps Dan set his life on track

Steve Carrell goes from a hapless 40-year-old virgin to a hapless widowed father of three daughters in Dan in Real Life. His life isn’t so bad, and he knows it. But there is a hole in his life, filled by the papers and books on his late wife’s side of the bed. After setting up some conflicts with his daughters, the movie sends them off to his parents’ home in Rhode Island for a vacation with his extended family.

In a house bustling with siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews, Dan’s the only adult without a mate. In an unsettled mood, he heads to the bookstore in town, where he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche). After a long coffee together, her phone rings. Turns out she’s in a relationship, but she’ll give him her number. When Dan gets back to the house, he finds out that she’s the girlfriend of his brother, Mitch. Neither Dan nor Marie can bring themselves to tell the family about their earlier meeting, which leads to many humorously awkward and uncomfortable situations.

The story occasionally veers into family sitcom territory. And like many sitcoms, it ends with lessons learned, and all the loose ends neatly and happily tied up. Then again, any other resolution would have been unsatisfying. Dan in Real Life is a nice feel-good movie with likeable characters and strong performances. Just because you know where it’s going doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

DVD Extras

Director and co-writer Peter Hedges keeps the audio commentary moving briskly. He shares some behind-the-scenes stories and talks about his influences (he was raised by a single father), but spends too much time telling viewers what’s happening on screen. A 15-minute making-of featurette mostly consists of people praising the movie. Some of the most interesting information is repeated by Hedges on the commentary track. A more interesting featurette is about the score by Norwegian pop musician Sondre Lerche. Hedges was looking for distinctive, but low-key music for the movie.

The DVD also has 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hedges. Most of his commentary is along the lines of, “I really liked this scene, but in the end it just didn’t fit.” This commentary is worth a listen, to give the scenes some context. Finally, the disc includes short section of outtakes, which consists mostly of actors humorously blowing their lines.

Picture and Sound

Both the picture and sound were excellent. The DVD has both subtitles and audio tracks in French and Spanish.

How to Use This DVD

After watching the movie, check out the deleted scenes with the commentary turned on. If you feel like more, check out the featurettes and blooper reel. You can skip the audio commentary.