Come on doesn’t the movie poster just make you want to order buttermilk pancakes with loads of butter and syrup? Minus Steve Carell’s forlorn head resting on top of the stack of course. This poster is actually a true representation of Dan in Real Life. The film’s message is that life can be full of sweet yummy—and yes even messy—things; you only have to wake up and smell the maple syrup. This pertains to Dan Burns (Carell) a family-advice columnist who is still reeling from the death of his wife four years earlier. He finds it hard to cope especially in dealing with his three rebellious daughters (Alison Pill Brittany Robertson Marlene Lawston) who wish he’d just get a life already. So to get away from it all he coerces the girls into going to the annual Burns family reunion in the country a boisterous bunch who are nonetheless worried about poor Dan. But as fate would have it while on an errand Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in the local bookstore and sparks fly. It’s the first time he has felt anything for another woman and it’s exciting—until he finds out Marie is actually his little brother Mitch’s (Dane Cook) new girlfriend here to meet the family for the first time. Oops. Dan and Marie then spend the entire weekend trying to squelch and cover up their growing mutual attraction but it’s no use. Steve Carell certainly seems to be multifaceted. First he succeeds with the R-rated raunchy comedy (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) then the quirky R-rated indie thing (Little Miss Sunshine). He stumbled a little with the PG-family fare (Evan Almighty) but now the funnyman tries his hand at the PG-13 romantic comedy—and scores once again. You can see how Carell might be good in a rom-com from his sweet performance in Virgin but he is able to soar in Dan in Real Life incorporating his trademark reactionary techniques while turning in a genuine portrayal of a widower trying to move on--with or without the help of his intrusive albeit loving family. Binoche is right there with Carell every step of the way. The French actress is terribly endearing as Marie and when she can’t control herself from cracking up at Carell’s antics you know it’s for real. The three young actresses playing Dan’s daughters--Pill (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) as the oldest about to leave the nest; Robertson (Keeping Up with the Steins) as the middle pubescent and reigning drama queen; and little Lawston (Flightplan) as the pre-teen who still loves her daddy--also all do a nice job. Same goes for comedian Cook as Dan’s flighty younger brother Dianne Weist and John Mahoney as Dan’s buttinsky parents—and a glammed-up Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada) as Dan’s blind date a girl Dan and his siblings used to call “Pig-Nosed Ruthie.” On the surface Dan in Real Life does seem like it would be a bit mushy a film that could easily lapse into corny pitfalls and over-weepy “family” moments. But in the hands of writer/director Peter Hedges it’s easy to see why Dan works: The guy knows how to craft scenes and write engaging dialogue without slipping into clichés. Just look at Hedges’ short but impressive writing résumé of winning intimate films--such as Pieces of April (which he also directed) About a Boy and What's Eating Gilbert Grape--to understand his talent. Dan follows suit. By centering the action on this one vacation Hedges introduces you to a family anyone should be able to relate to in one form or another. Immediately recognizable are the dynamics between the Burns siblings the cousins the parents and their kids which in turn allows for all those wacky unpredictable tender moments of familial bonding. The Burns family is particularly high on playing games and singing impromptu songs especially the one Dan’s brothers sing about his imminent blind date with Ruthie. Good times. Throw in the undeniable chemistry of a good romantic comedy and you’ve got Dan in Real Life.
Still grieving for her dead husband she's taking back to the United States to bury Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) faces every mother's worst nightmare when her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) vanishes without a trace on a state-of-the-art 474 aircraft en route from Berlin to New York. Already emotionally devastated Kyle desperately struggles to prove her sanity to the disbelieving flight crew and passengers while facing the very real possibility that she may be losing her mind. You see all evidence indicates that her daughter was never onboard. Julia's name isn't on the manifest and she does not have a boarding pass. In fact there are no traces that the girl exists save for a stuffed bear Kyle carries around. While Capt. Rich (Sean Bean) or U.S. Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) want to doubt the bereaved widow it becomes increasingly clear that Kyle is unstable and her adamancy is causing a slight panic among the plane's crew and passengers. Finding herself desperately alone Kyle can only rely on her own wits to solve the mystery and save her daughter. If she has one that is.
Jodie Foster can't help but lend credible intelligence to her films but unfortunately she is sometimes just too good for the movie she's in. This is sort of the case with Flightplan. Things start off very somber and moving as Foster heartbreakingly shows us a woman barely keeping it together. The pain of losing her husband is etched over her face but when Kyle looks at her adorable daughter--played convincingly by the young Lawston--you can see a glimmer of hope she'll get through it. Of course that is until Julia disappears and Kyle goes a little haywire. For any mother in the audience this surely will strike a chord. But as the plot twists and turns Foster is then required to turn into something of a supermom with super intellect and super brawn. Much like she was in her last film Panic Room Foster's the mother bear trying to save her cub from threatening forces. The Oscar-winning actress can pull it off natch but the story doesn't completely hold up to the acting. Sarsgaard (Kinsey) too has the ability to make anything he's in that much better and sparring with Foster as the seemingly patient U.S. Air Marshal Carson is just another notch in the actor's ever-widening belt of strong supporting performances. The rest of the cast follow suit as well most notably Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) as the beleaguered but kind captain just trying to help a woman he believes is simply crazy with grief. It's a change of pace for him since he usually plays the villain. Also good are Erika Christensen (Traffic) as a caring flight attendant and newcomer Kate Beahan as her co-worker who could care less. It's a thankless job but somebody's got to do it.
For a movie contained entirely in the claustrophobic environment of a jumbo jet you better make damn sure the aircraft is esthetically pleasing. Flightplan plane's a real stunner. Of course the Aalto Air's E-474 jumbo jet--with its plush first-class accommodations (including a lounge) spacious coach cabin spiral staircases and most especially an immaculately clean and shiny interior--doesn't really exist but you hope maybe the aerodynamic engineers out there will take notice and start building them. German indie director Robert Schwentke (Tatoo) is very adept at creating the palpable tension within the main cabin as Kyle runs around frantically searching and stirring up paranoia among the other passengers. Flightplan also plays upon the fearfulness and distrust in air travel these days as did the recent taut thriller Red-Eye. But what we are really waiting for is the twist. Is Kyle really going off the deep end á la The Forgotten? Or is there some kind of conspiracy going on? Alas when the mystery is solved it's sort of a letdown only because the final whopper is just a wee bit contrived. Regardless you'll still enjoy the ride up to the final moments.