Lars and the Real Girl

| October 14, 2007 | 0 Comments

What is it about Ryan Gosling’s career as an actor? This man obviously has a tremendous amount of talent, yet it seems to only shine brightest in small films. His big picture resume is littered with movies like Fracture, Stay and The Notebook, among others. Not necessarily bad movies, but not necessarily great movies, either. Then his small picture resume is studded with standouts like Half-Nelson, The United States of Leland and The Slaughter Rule. All are fabulous performances in challenging roles.
Add his performance as Lars in Lars and the Real Girl to that list, though, to be fair, Gosling is not the only fantastic performance or brilliant element to this magical film. I do believe that he may find himself nominated as a surprise pick for best actor just like last year for Half-Nelson. It’s that good of a performance in that wonderful of a film. Lars and the Real Girl may very well get lost in the shuffle of the fall’s bigger release–which, although not too surprising, is still a terrible shame. It’s definitely the biggest surprise so far this year. It’s a film with such a wonderful sense of humor and mighty heart, that’s deeply affecting with its rich characters and unexpected depth of emotion.
Lars lives in the garage apartment behind the home of his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer). The house sits in a snow bound, Midwesternesque small town. Gus and Karin see Lars through different eyes–Karin’s determined to mother Lars despite his obvious anti-social behavior; Gus finds it difficult to directly communicate with Lars, the events of their childhood hangs like static between them. Lars works a nondescript office job and attends Sunday service. He’s a quiet man, somewhat offbeat, but well liked by the townsfolk despite his intense shyness and disdain for human contact.
Of course, if you’ve seen the trailer you know the general conceit that drives the story. Lars falls for a life-sized silicone doll he locates on the Internet. This isn’t what it may seem and to his credit director Craig Gillespie never descends into the cheap or tawdry. There are reasons why Lars falls for the doll. Reasons I won’t get into because they’re too germane to the narrative wonder of this rich fable. Suffice to say it’s not a cheap story device played strictly for laughs, no matter how the trailer depicts it. There is a heart here, and in many ways the doll is that heart.
Lars presents the doll as his new girlfriend Bianca to Gus and Karin. Their shock gives way to deep concern, as the delusion Lars perpetuates with Bianca doesn’t subsist, but rather grows. Bianca has a backstory, a life’s history, which Lars recounts to them over dinner matter of factly. He implores them to let Bianca stay in their spare room, because it wouldn’t be proper for them to sleep together under the same roof. From here a truly magical journey evolves as the whole town eventually becomes involved in Bianca and Lars’ “relationship” out of love and concern for Lars.
I won’t go too much further into detail about the story. Suffice to say it never heads in the direction that you’d expect. The screenplay, by former Six Feet Under scribe Nancy Oliver, is a fantastic piece of writing. The humor is honest and unobtrusive. It’s characters never cloying or annoying. It walks a wonderfully fine line between pure emotion and just enough idiosyncratic nuances to make the whole story soar.
The performances are some of the best that you’ll see all year. Gosling gives another complex and detailed performance as a fractured man in need of understanding. Paul Schneider is amazing as Lars’ older brother, Gus. His reactions provide much of the comedy in the first half, then his struggle to understand Lars provides so much of the quiet drama in the second half. He gives such a tempered performance. I don’t think the film would work as well without the restraint he shows in his Gus. Emily Mortimer, much like Ryan Gosling, seems to do her best work in the smaller films she performs in. I’d say, without a doubt, that her work here is by far and a way the most heartfelt and natural acting she’s ever provided. There’s one soliloquy (for lack of a better term) of hers as Karin towards the end of the film that was wrenching and gorgeous to witness.
Lars and the Real Girl is one of those rare films that seems to have it all–true performances, a unique and powerful story and the right mix of emotion. That wouldn’t be possible without the director, Craig Gillepsie. In a surprising turn after he directed (though it was largely reshot after he was replaced from it) this year’s Mr. Woodcock, he counters with this spare, perfectly paced picture. He brings all the elements together and then weaves them into a spellbinding picture. It’s an unexpected, but much appreciated bit of career turnabout from Mr. Gillespie.
In the end, if I have one request of you this fall season; take a chance and go see Lars and the Real Girl, directed by Craig Gillepsie, written by Nancy Oliver and strarring Ryan Gosling. I don’t care what you think, if you’ve seen the trailer. I don’t care what you might be expecting. This movie will surprise and engage in ways you can’t imagine. It’s a deeply felt picture, with marvelous performance, a true gem. In the end, movies this good just don’t come along every day.

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