Comedy on the surface, sentimental character study at the core, Lars and the Real Girl is a very good film that at times has touches of greatness. There are laughs to be had as well as the surprise of the viewer finding such a touching and well-developed storyline about a man turning to a delusional respite and eventually discovering the reality that life has to offer through the people who love and care about him. What is most surprising is that the film is the sophomore effort from Craig Gillespie. His first film, Mr. Woodcock, is held by some to be one of the year’s worst. As far as I’m concerned, he has not only atoned for his previous film but also shown that he is a director whom you can have faith in in putting the right touch on a controversial subject. With Lars and the Real Girl, he does just that.
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling, Fracture) is a hermit who lives on his father’s property along with his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider, 2005’s The Family Stone), and his brother’s wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer, 2005’s Match Point). Lars sleeps in the garage next to the two-story house that Gus and Karin live in. The couple are concerned about Lars as he has been spending so much time alone. One day out of the blue, a package arrives for Lars and he tells Gus he’s met someone and would like to invite her over for dinner. That someone turns out to be no one, it’s just an inanimate sex doll named Bianca. Fearing that Lars has gone insane, Gus and Karin turn to Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson, 2006’s All the King’s Men), a part-time psychologist who tells them that Lars has entered a delusional state and that it’s best to go along with it. Gus does not take to that idea lightly at first and tries to confront Lars about Bianca but is completely ignored. So it seems that they have no choice but to play along and soon the whole (but very small) town is pretending that Bianca is a real person.
Whether or not you choose to accept that Lars’ communal neighbors are willing to play along with him will most likely be the deciding factor of how you favor the movie. For myself, I bought it for the most part. Writer Nancy Oliver, who wrote several episodes of TV’s Six Feet Under, and director Gillespie do miss the mark on some things. The local residents doing stuff with Bianca while Lars isn’t around, like fixing her hair, is somewhat vacuous. Also, having one malevolent character to ridicule Lars would have been very interesting to see.
What Oliver and Gillespie do extremely well though is handle Lars’ character with gentle care and make his reasons for his delusion completely cogent. His father lived a similar lifestyle and as a young boy he lost his mother. Also, he has a condition in which he simply can’t stand to be touched and thus he abnegates his desire to have a relationship with a real woman. In handling Bianca, Oliver and Gillespie treat her as the inanimate figure that she is and builds her character through Lars. Thus Lars is Bianca and this only adds to the numerous complexities and layers the character had to begin with. It would take a hell of an actor to portray such a complicated man.
As the titular Lars, Ryan Gosling proves to be one such actor. In this viewer’s opinion, Gosling has a legitimate shot of gaining a second straight Oscar nomination. Ironically, for a character who doesn’t liked to be touched, Gosling’s performance is palpable to the audience. As strange as his delusion is, you can’t help but like the guy. The scenes with Lars speaking to Bianca as he gradually builds a ‘relationship’ are funny and at times profound. When Bianca isn’t with Lars, it is a nice turn to see him have a social life with real friends. Most notable is a heartwarming bowling scene with co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner, 2004’s The Aviator).
The supporting players are all solid here. Emily Mortimer’s Karin stands out in a scene in which she tells the unappreciative Lars how much he has put the town through and in return they have been nothing but loving and cooperative toward him. Paul Schneider’s Gus is a multi-layered character with some terrific one-on-one scenes with his brother. Gus blames himself for not being there for Lars when his mother died and his father ignored him. Kelli Garner is perfectly cast as the endearing and cherubic Margo, whose interest and care go beyond just friendship. Finally, Patricia Clarkson as Dr. Dagmar may just be the most impressive actress of the supporting team as she helps Lars through his troubled time.
At first thought, a film about a guy falling in love with a lifelike sex doll may seem like a bad, if not horrific idea. Yet somehow, the low-key, delectable Lars and the Real Girl is a sweet and sincere character study. Surprisingly innocuous, Lars and the Real Girl ingrains that the audience will not be put on the spot with any uncomfortable sexual doings for which Lars’ doll is designed nor does it ever resort to unnecessary gross-out humor; which in this case one could see limitless possibilities for such gags . Lars and the Real Girl works so well because the audience knows that Lars is no mentally sick pervert but rather a confused soul going through tribulations and having trouble interacting with the outside world. The movie brilliantly manages to elicit the right reaction from the audience; that of compassion rather than discomfort.
||Release Date: October 12, 2007
Rated: PG-13 for some sex-related content.
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Nancy Oliver
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
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