daninreallife_posterbigSteve Carell has yet to fully prove himself as a leading man on his own. Most of his film success has come to date as a sidekick to a leading man like Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell or someone else. One of the two times he was asked to carry a movie was The 40 Year Old Virgin and while that was a big hit it is, to date, the only time he’s had a solo success. Most of his success has come as the star of “The Office,” where he is surrounded by a tremendously strong ensemble.

Dan in Real Life offers Carell a chance to redeem himself after what many consider to be the failure of Evan Almighty. While I don’t completely agree with that conclusion it is what it is. He plays a writer who pens a parenting advice column for a newspaper and is also a widowed father of three girls, from whence most of the comedy ensues. He meets a woman just before attending a family reunion, a woman he later finds out is his brother’s girlfriend. So he has to figure all this out while dealing with the normal family issues.

The Poster

The poster works at achieving its fundamental goal, which is to let people know there’s a new movie coming out and that it’s kind of funny. The problem is that the one-sheet makes it look like much more of a slapstick festival than the rest of the campaign. By putting Carell’s face falling into a stack of pancakes it kind of sells the movie as a pie-fight fest and I get the sense that’s not really the movie. My problem is that it’s too comedic. Yes, the movie is a comedy but the guy he’s playing isn’t a schlub who can’t handle the basics – he’s just a guy who is trying to navigate unknown territory as best he can. It just goes, to me, too far in that direction.

But the question is whether this will play well to the mass crowds and unfortunately I think the answer to that is “yes.” It’s broad enough that people won’t feel put off by it. I think they’re underestimating the market for more gentle family dramadies, though, and wish the poster had taken a more subtle approach. There’s nothing wrong with featuring Carell – he’s the star and he’s a well known face right now. But putting him in a less outrageous setting would have worked better, I think.

The Trailer

This is much better. The story is setup quite nicely in this trailer, presenting Carell’s Dan as a simple man who tries to raise his daughters right while also trying to have a personal life. It works quite nicely at introducing Dan, his daughters and later the rest of his family and establishing the dynamics that exist between all of them. It’s a quiet, more gentle trailer that emphasizes the actual story the characters will be embarking on as well follow them as opposed to being a barely-strung-together series of jokes. Oh sure there are a number of punchlines in there but the characters are the main focus and not some wacky antics. I still maintain, as I did when I first watched it, that Carell is doing far more acting in some of the looks he casts out of the corner of his eye than others do in entire films.

Online

The official website Disney created is a nice, solid, unspectacular effort. Most of the main content is arranged in the form of a series of snapshot pictures that you click on to bring up what’s underneath. That content is preceded by a short video clip lifted straight out of the trailer.

Let’s deal with the standard stuff first.

  • About: Just a single, short paragraph. It doesn’t even tell what the story is about, just intro’s the character of Dan in a very dry, descriptive way and then tacks on the fact that the director is the same one who helmed Pieces of April.
  • Cast & Crew: The content is the regular story of biographies and filmographies you usually find here, but the layout is awful. The text is crammed into a small box that makes it so you have to scroll down to read anything beyond the first four lines and then continues on like that. Piece of advice: Make this bigger. I’m not going to take the time to read all that in 1.5 sentence snippets.
  • Downloads: Just a couple of Wallpapers and a handful of Buddy Icons. Ok, thanks.
  • Gallery: There are about 18 stills here that are pretty nice. The one problem is that there’s no way to view thumbnails of the entire gallery – you just have to “Next” or “Back” through the entire selection.
  • Videos: This is probably the best section. There’s the trailer, yeah, but then there are also three TV spots that feature original footage and aren’t just condensed/re-edited versions of the trailer.

daninreallifeweb.JPGAt the beginning of October Disney solicited the online community to ask Carrel a question about the movie and the transcript of that Q&A can be found within “Ask Steve a Question.” While the questions and answers are alright the feature again suffers greatly from the fact that the box it’s contained int is too small. For some reason they designed it so that it’s not only short but also too thin, with the user needing to scroll up and down but also left and right in order to read the entire text. Come on, Disney, this was an easy one. Format the text so that it at least fits horizontally in the box. That’s just creating a bad user experience for the sake of creating a bad user experience.

If you’re interested, there’s a “Real Life Photo Sharing” contest on the site that asks you to submit the most “heartwarming” or “funny” picture. Not the proper stilted ones but one that is more in line with reality, which is a nice touch on the movie’s themes. One grand prize winner gets an HP digital camera and printer and runners-up get a copy of the movie’s soundtrack.

Finally there’s an online crossword puzzle – actually two, one for the guys and one for the girls – that involves things presumably from the movie’s plot. Seems like this would be easier to play after you’ve seen the movie, but that’s just based on the fact that I didn’t get what they were talking about with half the clues.

Oh one more thing – Buried at the bottom is a small button to post a link to the movie’s official site on your Facebook profile. It doesn’t do much, just adds said link to the items you’ve posted, but considering that update gets sent out to all the people who follow your updates it’s a nice, simple way to start some word-of-mouth.

Advertising

I haven’t seen much online advertising going on – and couldn’t find any ads for the movie on Adverlicio.us – but the movie has received pretty solid ad support on TV. I don’t watch much television so the fact that I’ve seen commercials for the movie regularly says something. Commercials have been placed in the syndicated Dr. Phil show – obviously an attempt to present women with a movie about a wonderful sensitive man at a time when they’re crying over the story of some problem or another. They also got placed on NBC’s Thursday night line-up, a line-up that includes the Carell-starring “The Office” so it’s not hard to figure out Disney is trying to cross-sell to the people who already enjoy the comedian’s work. Universal did that quite a bit for Evan Almighty.

Overall

I think my biggest problem with the campaign – and this is confirmed in Joe Leydon’s Variety review of the movie – is that Disney is selling the movie as much more of a comedy than it really is. Leydon says the movie is much more understated and deft in its handling of the movie’s premise than it is outright funny. So it’s a bit concerning to me that people will head to the movie expecting 90 minutes of pratfalls and the occasional crotch-shot and instead be presented with a movie that handles the subject matter in a softer more moderate way. Creating a disconnect between expectations and the product is never really a good thing.

The trailer is probably the best part of the campaign and sells the movie most closely to the product Leydon reviews. There are occasional moments of physical comedy, but the part that sticks with me the most is the interaction between Carell and John Mahoney, who plays his dad. It’s not showy – just a slip of the tongue and a mild, subdued reaction from Mahoney – but it’s that kind of stuff that needs to be highlighted more in the campaign in order to bring expectations more in line with reality.

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