Once upon a time a film critic (or movie studio executive) coined the term "feelgood" and then probably leaned back in their chair contented with the day’s work. Feelgood would become a great way of describing a movie that warms the cockles and that might make audiences all fuzzy and cosy inside. Time passes however, and soon the term is a catch-all for movies lacking any cerebral punch, or the type of daft comedies that shout out "cheery-bye" as any semblance of plot or character development drives by.
It’s highly likely that In Real Life might suffer the feelgood fate from a variety of reviewers, but whether planned or not this comedy works best when it doesn’t inhabit these waters. In fact, despite a number of slapstick moments, it’s when the cringe factor is developed that Dan Burns (Carell) and his crazy confederacy of a family start connecting with the audience.
Dan is a widowed father and family advice columnist. With three young daughters to bring up, he tries to ensure that organisation rules the roost. Upshot — his girls feel he’s far too much of a control freak. A family holiday to visit his mum and dad and the rest of the Burns tribe in the country is meant to be a relaxing break for Dan and his daughters, but things get complicated. On a trip to get supplies from the local store Dan bumps into Marie (Binoche) and the pair share a brief but intense time just talking – but, perhaps more importantly, connecting. Still in a whirl, Dan heads home and begins to tell his family about the amazing woman he met in town. He stops short of telling them who just around the time his brother, Mitch (Dan Cook), introduces the clan to his new girlfriend — Marie.
Dan and Marie spend the holiday denying their feelings for each other, as "hilarity" ensues thanks to increasingly bizarre acts from Dan. And it’s the building tension between Carell and Binoche, and between Dan and his whole family, that is where this movie is at its most entertaining. But the entertainment also comes with that cringe factor; and it’s the factor that made Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office so popular. You don’t want to watch yet you feel compelled to, and you absolutely have to find out what happens. It doesn’t succeed on all fronts, despite an incredibly strong cast, but when Dan In Real Life pulls it out of the bag it’s like an itch that you can’t scratch… and there’s nothing feelgood about that.
EXTRAS *** An audio commentary with Hedges and co-writer Pierce Gardner; A making-of featurette, called Just Like Family; Handmade Music, a featurete on creating film's score; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.