Dan in Real Life is a 2007 American comedy-drama film directed by Peter Hedges, starring Steve Carell, Alison Pill, Juliette Binoche, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, and Dane Cook.


Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a newspaper advice columnist, a widower, and concerned, borderline-helicopter, single-parent to his three girls, -older teens Jane (Alison Pill), and Cara (Britt Robertson), and precocious, young Lilly (Marlene Lawston). The family takes a trip from their New Jersey suburban home to the rambling, Rhode Island home of his parents (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) for an annual family gathering. Also in attendance are Dan's two sisters, their families and his younger brother, Mitch (Dane Cook), a shallow, though likeable personal trainer based in New York City.

Sulky Cara does not want to go, and leave her boyfriend Marty (Felipe Dieppa) with whom she claims to have fallen in love, "in just three days," initializing a repetitive theme of love-at-first sight. Dan, insisting that it is "not possible to fall in love in three days," gently but firmly insists. The morning after their arrival, Dan's mother encourages him to go into town, to give his daughters breathing room. Lonely and bemused Dan, visits a bookstore, where an attractive, foreign customer, (Juliette Binoche) mistakes him for an employee. Dan and Marie bond over a "small planet" sized muffin and a heart-felt chat about his life since losing his wife to cancer. The stranger, whose preferred name is Marie agrees to speak with Dan again before leaving, but gently warns Dan that she has a boyfriend. Dan returns to his parents' house and elatedly tells Mitch and Clay that he has met someone. They call on the women in the house for advice over Dan meeting, "a hottie" and Mitch calls out for his new girlfriend, Annie to get into the mix. Lo and behold, Dan's Marie is Mitch's Annie. Later, on a family beach walk, Dan is visibly disheartened, but makes small talk with his Dad about the possibility of his advice column being nationally syndicated, and miserably resists his father's relationship advice about finding someone of his own.

Dan and Marie spend the majority of the weekend attempting to deny and resist their growing attraction and obvious suitability to each other. Set up on a blind date by his mother, and egged on by Mitch, Dan reluctantly agrees to a foursome dinner with their once unattractive childhood friend, Ruthie "pig-faced" Draper (Emily Blunt), who is now a plastic surgeon, and visiting town. The evening has the unexpected, charming effect of bringing out Marie's deeper feelings for Dan as she jealously watches him and Ruthie. The next morning, now convinced that her jealous surliness is proof of her attraction to him, Dan smugly, and almost lovingly endures her 'punishment' for his late night with Ruthie by eating the burnt pancakes which she serves only him, and later openly flirts with her during family football, the latter behavior drawing reproofs from Jane.

The next morning, Cara's boyfriend Marty arrives, and Dan brusquely sends him on his way, sparking a love-lorn, teen tantrum from Cara.

That night, during the family talent show, Dan surprises everyone by accompanying nervous Mitch on guitar, in a rendition of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door". After Mitch forgets a stanza, Dan steps in, desperately serenading Marie in front of a clueless Mitch. Marie, unable to further deny her feelings for Dan, leaves a distraught Mitch during breakfast. On her drive out of town, Marie calls Dan, and they meet to talk at a bowling alley. Unable to contain themselves any longer, the meeting evolves into a date complete with bowling, glitter ball, romantic music courtesy of the establishment's owner, and finally a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, Dan's entire family, apparently set on bowling, arrive at this disastrous moment. Shocked and infuriated at his older brother's betrayal, Mitch punches Dan in the face, and Marie hurries out apologetically. Desperate to catch her, Dan hastily reverses and crashes squarely into the cruiser of the local, unamused police officer who has already issued him two prior citations this particular weekend.

Later, he returns to his parents' home, to find the father and daughter owners of the newspaper group, interested in his column's syndication. With Mitch and the family sitting in, Dan is acutely aware of his hypocritical behavior with Marie, especially in light of his over-parenting, and, in particular, his dismissive cynicism about Cara's romance. Dan finally talks to his daughters, misguidedly promising to be more present for them, which they immediately resist. This forces his realization and confession of being in love with Marie,...even though he has "only known her three days." Encouraged by his parents and precocious Lily to, "go get her", he goes after Marie with all three finally approving daughters, happily in tow.

The plot resolves with Dan and his daughters reaching New York City, where they finally find Marie at her gym. As he makes eye contact with her, Dan in V/O, also tells the readers of his first nationally-syndicated column, that instead of merely planning ahead in life, they should "plan to be surprised".

The final scene shows Dan and Marie celebrating their wedding at his parents' Rhode Island home. Mitch is seen happily dancing with Ruthie Draper, and Cara is dancing with her boyfriend Marty.

The camera closes on Sondre Lerche and band performing his song, Modern Nature.


Dan in Real Life
  • Steve Carell as Dan Burns, widower, and father of 3 daughters
  • 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 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
  • Jessica Hecht as Amy Burns, Dan's sister
  • Amy Ryan as Eileen Burns, Clay's wife
  • Frank Wood as Howard Wilson, Amy's husband
  • Emily Blunt as Dr. Ruthie "Pigface" Draper
  • Felipe Dieppa as Marty, 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
  • CJ Adams as Elliot Burns, Clay and Eileen's youngest son

Box office performance

Dan in Real Life

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.

It was released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 11, 2008.

Critical reception

The film received generally positive reaction from film critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 64% approval rating with an average rating of 6.2/10 based on 169 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "The fine performances elevate Dan in Real Life beyond its sentimental plot." Review aggregator Metacritic, which provides a score out of 100 based on a weighted average, gave the film a score of 66/100 from 34 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."


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. First time Dan is pulled over by the Jamestown, Rhode Island police, he is on Ocean Ave Newport, Rhode Island. Second time Dan is pulled over by Mackerel Cove in Jamestown. 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 cities consisting 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.


Dan in Real Life

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:

  1. "Family Theme Waltz" - Sondre Lerche
  2. "To Be Surprised" - Sondre Lerche
  3. "I'll Be OK" - Sondre Lerche
  4. "Dan and Marie Picking Hum" - Sondre Lerche
  5. "My Hands Are Shaking" - Sondre Lerche
  6. "Dan in Real Life" - Sondre Lerche
  7. "Hell No" - Sondre Lerche and Regina Spektor
  8. "Family Theme" - Sondre Lerche
  9. "Fever" - A Fine Frenzy
  10. "Airport Taxi Reception" - Sondre Lerche and The Faces Down Quartet
  11. "Dan and Marie Melody" - Sondre Lerche
  12. "Human Hands" - Sondre Lerche and The Faces Down Quartet
  13. "I'll Be OK" (Instrumental Reprise) - Sondre Lerche
  14. "Let My Love Open The Door" - Pete Townshend
  15. "Dan and Marie Finale Theme" - Sondre Lerche
  16. "Modern Nature" - Sondre Lerche and Lillian Samdal
  17. "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" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "September '99 (Phats & Small Remix)" are also featured in separated scenes in the movie but are not on the soundtrack. "Human Hands" written by Elvis Costello (original version appears on his album Imperial Bedroom).


External links

Dan in Real Life
  • Official website at the Wayback Machine (archived October 8, 2007)
  • Dan in Real Life at the Internet Movie Database
  • 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 AllMovie
  • Dan in Real Life DVD and Blu-ray Official Site

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