Lars and the Real Girl

| April 17, 2008

What’s wrong with a grown man with a life sized doll on his arm as he attends church? Absolutely nothing–that is, if you live in the small town depicted in Lars and the Real Girl. Call me crazy, but if I were to encounter a man who believed a blow up doll, complete with suggestively seductive clothing, to be his soul mate, I wouldn’t feel quite comfortable enough to attempt to uncover what might be the root of such a delusion. Therein, lies the simple beauty of a film with a potentially, and seemingly crass idea: that, in a perfect world, perhaps we might look beyond the initial horror of such a strange, even revolting, behavior? Maybe we’d even decide to see what’s the matter?
In a medium immersed in raunchy and even raunchier comedies, one might make the mistake of assuming a plot such as the one in the film can only mean two things: an R rating and little or no substance. However, one would also have to take into account that the story is anchored by a compellingly simple performance by Ryan Gosling. There was nothing creepy about this man who makes sure his doll, Bianca, always wears her seatbelt, tells her life story with detailed enthusiasm, and who cannot contain his pride as he introduces her to his neighbors and friends. Gosling plays Lars Lindstrom, a loner by any definition. Lars lives in his brother’s garage and keeps to himself-choosing a life of solitude over endless invites to join his brother and pregnant wife for dinner, just across the driveway. He barely says a word, seemingly pained in uncertainty by any attempt at communicating with another being. He is sweet and functional yet he lacks what his brother and sister-in-law hope might bring him a new lease on life–a companion. Imagine their shock when Lars’ new girlfriend arrives in a UPS delivery box.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film is also delicately written by Nancy Oliver, no stranger to dark themes as a veteran writer of HBO’s Six Feet Under. The simple, quirky nature of the dialogue, subtle humor and upbeat attitude of the townspeople who love and embrace all of Lars’ eccentricities, create an alternate universe where psychopathology is accepted. This creates a sense that all those whom encounter Lars’ are rooting for his unlikely recovery, and if not, are content to watch him find happiness-albeit in the arms of a plastic woman.
So is Lars’ fascination and love for Bianca a breakdown or a major breakthrough? It may depend on your own stance on mental illness, or perhaps you may have understood the fear associated with leaving your heart in the potentially incapable hands of a human being? Maybe Lars has the right idea. Wouldn’t it be easier to stay on the safe side, and leave your heart in the hands of an inanimate object that could never damage it, the way life and people can and do? Lars’ experience is an extreme depiction of the fear of trusting another human being. So, in the end, his unconventional journey may be one that is actually one we know all too well.
The film succeeds most markedly in its performances. Gosling created a fragile, terrified, yet courageous Lars who must face the depth of his fears in order to grow up. Lars doesn’t feel sorry for himself–so we never feel sorry for him. The indispensable supporting cast includes Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner, Paul Schneider, and Emily Mortimer. Lars and the Real Girl is a refreshingly creative piece on one man’s struggle to begin to endure the pain of love, and the aftermath of lost love–that is, to begin to live his life. Despite a plastic main character, Lars and the Real Girl is charmingly real.
Highly recommended.

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