Years ago, after seeing Barbra Streisand's Yentl, a friend offered a shrewd appraisal: "I went expecting a C movie, but I'm happy to say that was a B movie." The same applies to Dan in Real Life, an agreeable comedy by director-cowriter Peter Hedges (he made the admirable Pieces of April?), which brims with familial warmth and easygoing humor.
Dan (Carell), a widower with three daughters, is instantly smitten after meeting Marie (Binoche) while both are browsing in a bookshop. Hours later his younger brother Mitch (Cook) shows up with Marie on his arm at a family reunion weekend because—did you see this coming?—she's Mitch's girlfriend. Now Dan must decide how far he'll go to win Marie for himself.
Carell continues to grow exponentially as an actor (let's all just agree to forget Evan Almighty), managing to make wallowing in self-pity seem sympathetic and amusing. Sadly, the lovely Binoche is given too little to do; she's mostly onscreen for Dan to pine over. But what really keeps Dan from soaring is that it can't seem to decide whether it's a quirky little love story or a slick Hollywood star vehicle. When the movie opts for the latter—serving up strained scenes showcasing Carell engaged in "wacky" antics, such as dancing geekishly or getting soaked in a shower while fully dressed—it just becomes Dan in Hollywood.