Two of the most joyful moments of my life were when each of my daughters was born. It’s ironic, then, that these same two girls figure directly into my most dreaded fears: that someday they’ll start getting interested in boys and will — gulp! — want to go on dates with them.
Dating. Even writing the word makes me a little nauseous. It also reminds me of a film I saw a few years ago, Dan in Real Life, produced by Disney’s sister company, Touchstone Pictures, which dads (and moms) of daughters are sure to relate to.
Dan — played beautifully by Steve Carell — is a widower with three daughters, 8, 15, and 17. The 15-year-old is whole-heartedly love crazy. She ignores her father’s established boundaries and pushes his patience to the limit. She’s the kind of daughter who would make most dads tremble in their boots — me included.
The story is at times touching and at times laugh-out-loud funny. But at the heart of this movie is the theme of loneliness. Dan is stuck in his aloneness — unable to move on, long after his wife’s death. In short, he desperately needs encouragement to move forward in his adult life. That encouragement comes, at least in part, from his children. They don’t want to replace their mother, but they also want someone to lift their father from the depths of his sadness so they can, finally, get their dad back.
In a particularly poignant moment — after Dan makes one of his many colossal mistakes — his youngest daughter sums it up this way: “You’re a good father . . . but sometimes a bad dad.” What kids need in a dad is a whole man.
This movie, which was directed by Peter Hedges (writer/director of The Odd Life of Timothy Green) boasts an impressive cast. Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche are superb in the lead roles. But Dan’s parents, played by old pros Dianne Weist and John Mahoney, are just as great. And the daughters are nothing short of perfect in their portrayals; they’re outspoken, sometimes bratty, but nevertheless endearing.
There is something sweet about this film that you don’t often find in movies these days. I choked up more than once. But the movie is also smart, with twist after humorous twist.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite movies of all time.
If you haven’t seen Dan in Real Life you’re in for a treat. I’ve seen it at least four times, and I look forward to seeing it again. Especially as my oldest daughter enters—yikes!—her first year in junior high school. Lord help me.