In honor of election day, I took the day off and went to the movies. I wasn't in the mood for anything super-hyped, and was finally at a cineplex that offered more than 2 movies. So I saw Martian Child with John Cusack and Dan in Real Life with Steve Carell. Both were really good and triggered the same sense of goodness and hope. Martian Child tells the story of an adopted child who thinks and acts like he's from Mars. Cusack plays the recently widowed (is that even the right word for a man who lost his wife?) adoptive father of 7-year-old Dennis, who wears sunglasses and sunblock 'beacuse Earth's sun is too sunny', and a weight belt because 'Earth's gravity is weak' and he doesn't want to float away. Dennis is so convincing throughout that you're not sure he isn't a little bit Martian, but his masking his attachment and abandonment issues this way make the story and its resolution more hopeful than incredibly sad. Cusack is wonderful as the new parent who is also a famous sci-fi writer who understands what it means to be a "different" kid and helps Dennis 'learn to be human'. The movie could easily have spilled into cliche and schmaltziness, but it stays very genuine and convining all the way through. When Dennis proves he can taste color by identifying M&Ms with his eyes shut, you really start to believe he has some Martian qualities. Also, Amanda Peet and Joan Cusack (as John's sister) are terrific supporting cast. They have funny bits and help John see some of the problems with Dennis that need to be dealt with and argue the "society" line of conformity with the best of intentions.
Dan in Real Life similarly tells the story of a man raising his 3 daughters since his wife passed away. Steve Carell is terrific as the dad of teenage girls who watches in disbelief as they go through teen angst and first love. Dan's huge family is gathered at the family home on the Rhode Island shore for the weekend. Dan is sent out for the paper and meets the woman of his dreams (Juliette Binoche in her best character ever, in my opinion) - they chat for hours. However, when he gets home she's beaten him there because she is Dan's brother's new girlfriend! Dane Cook plays the brother very convincingly - some humor, but obviously the family screw-up. The weekend is full of the awkwardness that Carell is perfect for, and he an Binoche keep falling love while trying to deny it. There are lots of funny bits, including a family talent show, and Carell's continuing run-ins with the same cop for traffic violations. Very good movie, with fun and romance.
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