Dan in Real Life

Do you remember that movie?


You mean you forgot the single most important film of the ’00s?!

For some reason, or maybe a lot of reasons, I always find myself longing to watch Dan in Real Life in the fall.

I first saw the movie hunched over our laptop screen in Uganda in fall 2008. I have no idea where we acquired it, but expats would trade whatever movies they had on their hard drives when they met — it may have originated with a couple of Canadian engineers we knew. Whatever the case, the appeal, I guess, was obvious: the film is set in perfect, autumnal New England, a breath of fresh fall air when we were denied that season in equatorial Africa. (Little did we know what stood in wait for us on the other side of 2009.)

What’s more, beyond the romance storylines loomed a big, boisterous family when J and I were still a little and very new family of two. Moving around the edges of the film are traditions and deep knowledge that appealed strongly when our family originated scant months before.

If you haven’t seen it (why haven’t you?!), the plot is pretty basic: a middle aged widower with three daughters packs up for his parents’ summer place in Rhode Island, where the whole extended family meets each fall to shut up the house for the season. In town, he meets a darling French woman who turns out to be his little brother’s girlfriend.

Like most of my favorite movies, I love it for the atmosphere more than the plot (which is pretty meh, if I try to look at it objectively). There’s a trick of backstory that suggests these people might be real someplace, a certain quality of light that makes each moment golden and desirable.

Aspirational is a word that’s trotted out too often, but this movie was that for us. Not in terms of glamor or drama or even Dan’s romance (sweet, but a little trite) — in fact, I think J and I would agree that if anything the grandparents were the most central characters for us, a matriarch and patriarch swarmed by goofy, loving progeny.
We were 22 and life was unfolding slowly as we sat in our little bungalow among the bougainvillea and sometimes waiting was almost too much to bear as we wiled away time till the swift equatorial nightfall, till we boarded the plane back home, till our real life together began.
And in the meantime, there was plenty of time for Dan in Real Life, and for dreaming.

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