NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by S.D.
The movie opens up with Courier New font credits appearing on either side of a black screen. It then cuts to a close up on Dan’s face, who is apparently in bed. It is either morning or night, one cannot tell. It then shows a full body shot, which includes his bed. Papers and books are sprawled on the bed, and no one is on the other side. Dan sighs once before getting out of bed. Cut to “Dan in Real Life” in Courier New font on a black screen. It then shows him doing laundry, making sandwiches, and, of course, writing in his column, which is called “Dan in Real Life.” Dan writes advice for people, and various letters are seen on his desk, which have been sent in from readers. It then cuts to a later part of the day, for more sunshine is present. His three daughters are all getting ready for school while Dan informs them that a family get-together will take place that day. The middle daughter, Cara, is protesting that she simply cannot attend the get-together. She claims that her schoolwork will interfere. However, only a moment later, the doorbell rings, and Dan goes to get it. A teenage boy is standing outside. He compliments Dan on his past columns, and eventually tells Dan that he wants to see his daughter. Dan calls for his oldest daughter, Jane, who is seventeen years old. However, the boy, Marty Barasco, informs Dan that he wants to see the middle daughter. Dan tells him to come back in two years before slamming the door on his face.
The three daughters then begin making their way to the bus. Jane pleads for her dad to let her drive, but Dan tells her, “no.” Cara then says to Dan that the boy who came to the door was merely a friend and also a lab partner. She insists that they are, “working on an extra-credit project together.” However, Dan doesn’t seem to believe her.
Cut to Dan packing lunches, which include banana and peanut butter sandwiches and honey and peanut butter sandwiches. Dan perfectly slices away at the bananas. It then shows him packing suitcases and lunches into a beat-up red car. His cell phone rings, and he stops to take the call. However, the viewer does not know what the other person said, only that the comment makes Dan laugh. It then cuts to a shot of the school where his two older daughters attend. Jane, the oldest daughter, is chatting away to her two other friends on an outside staircase. The smallest daughter, Lilly, is in the back seat of the car. Dan requests the location of Cara to Jane, and Jane responds that she is at “Yumm’s.”
It cuts to what appears to be a local teenage hangout. Yumm’s is probably a coffee shop. Various teens are seen either chatting or doing their homework. Dan drives up to the shop and walks up to the front of it. After a little bit of searching, Dan sees his daughter with someone. However, the other person cannot be seen, for a female teenager is blocking him/her. After the girl moves, it is found that Marty, the boy who came to the front door that morning, is holding hands with Cara. They get inches from kissing when Dan bangs on the glass window wildly. This causes Cara and Marty to put their kiss on hold. Cara glares at him as she starts packing her bag.
Storming out of the place, Cara begins to yell at her dad, telling him how embarrassed she is. Dan tells her that she is grounded for life, but then he quickly shortens the punishment to a month. Cara continues to yell at him in the car. However, once they start driving away, she puts her hand to the glass window while Marty runs through the café, looking as if his puppy just died. But it is no use, for the car jerks away.
It then shows the car on the highway as more credits appear. They stop at the gas station, and Dan tells Lilly, the youngest daughter, that all three of his daughter’s college educations are going away as the gas price increases heavily. They continue driving, and Dan says to Lilly that his two other daughters are mad at him. Lilly says that he is a good father, but sometimes he isn’t a good dad. Dan asks if Jane or Cara told him to say that. Lilly says that she made it up, but Dan doesn’t believe it. He continues to ask which daughter said it, but Lilly insists it was her, for she’s in the fourth grade and can make up her own things. Dan asks one more time before both Jane and Cara yell, “SHE’S IN THE FOURTH GRADE!”
It then cuts to Dan pulling up in the front of a house. Trees surround the place, and it is quite dark outside. They go inside, and Dan greets everyone. It is quite clear that Dan has a big family, for there are a handful of family members in the house. Dan’s mother, Nana, says something about how an extra person will be staying in the house (it was hard to hear exactly who, but I’m pretty sure it was a brother-in-law.) Nana says that means Dan gets the “special room.” Cut to him sleeping in a crowded laundry room. The dryer is banging noisily, and Dan looks most unpleased. However, his mother kisses him goodnight, and Dan turns off the light.
The next morning, Dan apparently had a terrible night, for his eyes are just about to close as he slowly walks out of the laundry room. The mother tells him to go and get lost somewhere. Dan first refuses, but then agrees after a little while. It starts raining as he gets into his car. He drives around for a short amount of time before stopping at a bookstore. He goes inside and finds the employee, an older man, to be on the phone. He then continues walking, staring at all of the books. Not even a second later, a woman walks into the bookstore, and sees the old man on the phone. Growing impatient, she walks toward Dan, and he notices her. Apparently thinking he is a worker, the woman asks him if he knows any good books. She says she needs something that will help her, for she is in an “awkward position.” Dan goes around and picks out about ten books or so, and recommends them to her for different reasons. She decides to take them all, and tells the employee, who is now off the phone, that Dan should get extra money. The man informs the woman that he doesn’t work there, but she says he should.
The woman introduces herself as Marie, and Dan introduces himself as well. They sit inside what looks like an old fish restaurant by the sea and spend hours talking. Dan informs Marie that his wife got sick one day and died. Clearly, she feels sympathy for his situation. Her cell phone rings, and she says she has to go. However, before she goes, Dan gets her number. At first she is hesitant, stating that she is in a relationship. But Dan convinces her that all they are is friends, and nothing more. Seeing no harm in that, she gives him her phone number.
On the way home, Dan gets stopped by a policeman. He gets a ticket, with the policeman saying, “Welcome to Rhode Island.”
When Dan returns home, he is stunned. Various people question his strange behavior, and he eventually tells them that he met this girl at a bookstore, and she’s “really great.” Mitch, one of Dan’s brothers, goes and gets “Anne,” the new girlfriend. However, “Anne” turns out to be “Anne Marie,” the girl Dan has just met at the bookstore. The two pretend they have never met and shake hands.
Cut to the girls versus the guys playing a crossword game. The girls win, with the help of Marie, and the guys are forced to do the dishes. Everyone notices that Dan’s acting very strange. It then shows the family playing a game of hide-and-go-seek. Marie and Dan eventually find each other, neither of them knowing what to do. Mitch finds them and has them get involved in the game. They do, sitting behind a bed and talking quietly.
It then shows everyone gathered around a large dinning table. Various food items are present at the table. Everyone is clearly enjoying Marie’s presence. Dan starts tensing up, and eventually tells Marie that Mitch has had many girlfriends, and starts listing them off when dinner ends with the help of Nana, who shots a displeased look towards Dan.
Cut to Dan doing the dishes by himself while everyone else is playing charades. Mitch talks to Dan, telling him how great Marie is. Mitch asks what the word is for when you feel happy and as if you can’t talk and confused all at the same times. Dan replies that it’s love, and Mitch shakes his head in agreement. It then shows Dan and Marie getting a small, private moment together. This moment, though, gets shattered as the family comes up the stairs for bed. Mitch, who is part of the crowd, takes the book that Dan has written and suggests that Marie reads it. Marie agrees, and everyone goes to bed.
The next morning, Marie is reading Dan’s book outside. She is in workout clothes, and the reason is soon explained. The whole family begins participating in a “dance,” which one person at a time leads. It is first Mitch’s turn, but then it becomes Marie’s turn. Dan, being too distracted by looking at Marie’s butt, does nothing but move his body occasionally.
When the workout is over, Mitch and Marie “stretch,” by grabbing each other’s bottom and forming a type of a circle. Dan attempts to get his daughters to go with him for some bonding time, but Lilly is the only one that wants to. Lilly wants to know if she can show Dan something, and Dan says that she can later. Taking two other kids that are related to him somehow, the four of them drive up somewhere close to the sea. They start to go to a bowling alley only to find that it is closed. He tells them that life is full of disappointments. Next, they go to a lighthouse and Dan asks the children why lighthouses were invented. One child says, “because their cool,” and Dan agrees. He also says that lighthouses were invented to help someone out, for even though life may be dark and miserable and depressing (he goes on and on), the lighthouse helps give them some light.
When they return home, Dan asks the children if they had fun. They reply with a solid, “no.” Mitch then goes up to Marie’s room, and talks to her while she washes her face. Dan says that he will focus on all of her flaws, and will make himself less attractive so “no inappropriate feelings occur.” However, the conversation gets interrupted by Jane, who wants to talk to Marie. Dan hides in the shower, and Jane asks if Marie is taking a shower. Marie replies that she is, and turns the water on. They start talking, and Jane expresses thoughts about traveling. The water begins to produce steam, and Marie turns on the shower, which blasts Dan with hot water. Jane turns the other way to let Marie undress and, having no other choice, she does just that. Since it would only be believable if she got in the shower, she is forced to go into the shower. Dan stares at her naked body as Jane continues talking. Dan puts a washcloth over his eyes, which causes Marie to nearly burst out laughing. A minute or two later, Dan opens the window and walks onto the roof. Due to how slippery it is, however, Dan rolls right off and lands in the bushes. Nana, the mother, is setting the table when she looks up. She shrugs the sound off, however, and calls for lunch.
Dan walks out of the laundry room wearing a green jacket over his soaked red sweatshirt. They have lunch, with Dan acting weird and uneasy. I believe they play football next. Dan tackles Marie and knocks her to the ground. They stay on top of each other for far too long. A call interrupts the game, and Dan, once finished with the call, informs the rest of the family that he may be moving to a bigger newspaper business. They congratulate him. Once everyone begins clearing out, Jane sits on the porch steps to talk with her dad. She tells Dan that Lilly asked why Marie and he were flirting. Jane says she covered for him, but noticed that they were flirting as well. She tells him to “watch it” and then adds, “congratulations” before walking up the steps.
Cut to two teenage boys throwing small rocks in the sea. They gently skip in the water. Dan watches for a moment before leaving and returning with a massive rock, which he throws into the ocean. It causes a giant splash, and he awkwardly leaves.
It then shows Dan sitting in his bedroom. Nana and Poppy, Dan’s parents, start talking to him about how “weird” he’s been. More and more family members interrupt the conversation, however, as they go and get their laundry. The mom tells Dan that she saw Ruthie Draper at the Farmer’s Market, and she wanted to know all about him. Nana says she set up a blind date between the two of them, much to Dan’s dismay. Apparently, Ruthie’s nickname was “Pigface.” It then shows the family singing a song about her while Dan waits anxiously for Ruthie to arrive. Mitch and Marie have agreed to go with Dan on his blind date.
Cut to a bar of some sort. Ruthie is talking about how she is a doctor. She works as a plastic surgeon to help children who have deformed faces. She says that her boyfriend was killed in a freak accident and starts bursting to tears. However, she quickly recovers and goes to find a song on the juke box. The song “Fever” is playing at first. Ruthie then changes it to some pop song. Mitch comments on Ruthie’s moves, saying, “A girl with those moves makes a guy wonder….” But Marie insists Dan isn’t interested in her. Smiling, clearly to make her jealous, Dan goes over and dances with Ruthie. Marie instantly grabs Mitch’s hand and dances, too. There is a sort of a secret competition between them, with both of them dancing wildly.
At the end of the night, Ruthie drives everyone home. Marie invites Ruthie in, but she says that Dan and her are going to drive somewhere else. This strikes a cord with Marie, but, of course, she can’t disagree, for she isn’t supposed to be interested in Dan. The couple drive away as the screen fades to black.
The next morning, Marie isn’t happy with Dan. She makes pancakes for everyone, but serves him last. He gets to eat two blackened pancakes, which he takes a bite out of with a disgusted face.
It then cuts to three teenagers watching something from a rock. Dan’s head appears and his eyes go wide as the screen cuts to Cara and Marty kissing on a rock by the sea. Dan gets Cara inside, and they have a private talk. She ensures her father that Marty is the one who wants to wait to have sex. Dan questions out loud how that piece of information would comfort him, but the question never gets answered. It is easily distinguishable that Dan has feelings of true love, for he starts talking about how Cara probably feels as if she can’t talk when Marty is around, and how she just says everything that comes to mind. Due to the fact that everyone is eavesdropping in the next room, Marie catches everything that Dan is saying and looks down at her lap. Cara smiles as she cries ands asks if this means that Marty can stay. Dan starts laughing hysterically, repeating, “Does this mean Marty can stay” in a high-pitched voice.
It then shows Marty going into his father’s car while Dan tells him goodbye. Marty informs Dan that “Love is not a feeling, it’s ability.” Even though he doesn’t say it, Dan clearly agrees. However, Marty is driven away while Cara screams in protest. Dramatically falling down in the leaves, she cries while Jane comforts her. Marie expresses her sympathy, and Dan tells her that love isn’t a feeling, it’s ability. Marie agrees.
That night, the family all perform different acts, including one person drinking a glass of water while another person spits it out (the mother and father.) When it is Mitch’s turn, he sings a song with Dan’s help. Dan plays the guitar, while multiple people comment on how he hasn’t played since his wife died. Even after Mitch is finished singing the song, Dan continues, and it is clear he is singing it to Marie. The song is something about love.
Marie and Dan meet in the laundry room, and Marie says she noticed that Dan got carried away. Marie tells Dan that she has read his book, and all of Mitch’s lines are coming from the book, such as “I’ll forgive your past if you forgive mine” or “…the minute I saw her I felt like I was in the room with an angel.” Marie says she is through pretending and walks out of the room. Lilly again asks through the door if she can show him something she made, and Dan says that she can in the morning.
The next morning, Mitch and Marie are seen crying and upset as Marie gets into her car and drives away. The whole family watches this from the kitchen window. They all pretend to be doing normal morning activities when Mitch comes into the house. He wonders why Marie left him, saying he can’t think of any reason.
Marie then calls Dan and tells him that she needs to leave, but she hasn’t gone far. Dan is seen driving when (I think) he gets his second ticket from the same police officer. This might have happened a little earlier in the film, though. Dan sees Marie’s car at the bowling alley that him and the three children went to earlier in the film. Rain pours down as he gets into her car. They are soon seen bowling. The owner of the place, an elderly woman, turns off the main lights, and turns on the smaller Christmas-type lights, which makes the entire bowling alley look like midnight bowling. They have a great time as they bowl. After a minute of so, they kiss. And then again. And then they start making out. However, the lights flick on, the music in the background (something that would be heard in the 60s) stops, and it is revealed that the entire family is now watching Marie and Dan kissing. Mitch asks for an explanation, to which Dan replies that Marie and him broke up. Mitch shouts, “Two hours ago!” and a big argument breaks out. Marie quietly leaves. Mitch then punches Dan in the mouth, giving him a bloody mouth. Dan has realized that Marie left, and he quickly runs out of the alley to find her. She is getting into her car, and refuses to talk. He gets in his car as well (as she drives away) and backs out of the parking lot. But he accidentally smashes into a police car. They take away his license, and the police man’s car can be seen getting into a tow-truck.
Dan gets home and finds the people from the more well-known newspaper (the people earlier in the film who offered him a deal), sitting down on his couch, drinking tea. Dan sits down and begins to talk to them. They tell him how great he would be for the newspaper, and how he puts family first, but Dan interrupts, saying he hasn’t been following his own advice. He then excuses himself and goes up to Lilly’s room to see what it is that she wants to show him. However, Lilly will not come out, and the two older sisters tell him how he cruelly “blew Lilly off.” They slam the door on his face, but slide a piece of cardboard under the door. He takes it, and walks to the stairs. Sitting down on the steps, he opens it up. It is a collection of photos. These photos include Cara, Jane, Lilly, Dan, and the mother who apparently died a few years ago. They show how happy the family was back then.
Incredibly touched, Dan goes up to Lilly’s room and he is let in. He asks to talk to Lilly alone, but Jane and Cara only walk right up to Lilly and sit next to her. Ignoring the refusal, Dan starts talking about how he has been “stupid” in the last few days. He says he got a little crazy, but everything will be back to normal due to the fact that Marie is gone. He gets close several times to saying he loves her, but he never finishes his sentence. The family then forgives each other. Dan then eventually does finish his sentence, saying that he loves her. Jane replies, “Well, go get her.”
Doing just that, Dan rushes down the stairs. Mitch is seen walking out the front door, and Ruthie (the girl Dan went out with earlier in the movie) is in her car. She waves affectionately at Mitch, and it is clear the two are now dating. Dan sees all of this, and smiles. He walks to his own car, but realizes he can’t do it, because he doesn’t have a license. At this exact point in the film, Jane walks over, smiling, with Cara and Lilly smiling behind. Jane has the keys to the car.
As the four of them drive, Dan is heard in an over voice. What he is saying is coming from his first article in the larger newspaper. He is talking about plans. Not necessarily his plans, but the plans of others. Dan and his three girls walk up to a gym, where Marie is working out on the treadmill. Dan’s over voice talks about how the only plans we should have are the plans to be surprised. And Marie, waving, jumps off the treadmill as the screen cuts to black.
During the credits, we see Dan and Marie getting married at the cottage they were staying at. Mitch and Ruthie can also be seen dancing together as well.
After figuring out that everything Mitch says actually came from Dan's book, Marie (Juliet Binoche) breaks it off with Mitch (Dane Cook) and leaves.
She calls Dan (Steve Carell) and the two of them meet up at the bowling alley where they are eventually discovered by the entire family.
Marie leaves and at his daughter's request, Dan goes after her (along with his daughters). They find her at the gym back home in the city - She is obviously thrilled to see them all.
The movie ends and during the credits we see the two of them getting married at his folk's house.
(Mitch is there with the girl the family set Dan up with earlier in the film)