October 28, 2007

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Twenty years ago Andrew McCarthy starred in a movie called Mannequin. In that movie McCarthy plays an artist who creates a mannequin and then falls in love it. It doesn't hurt that the plastic statue comes to life as Kim Cattrall. The end result was a forgettable romantic fantasy that was popular enough at the time to spawn a sequel. Why do I bring this up? Well, it does have an out there premise that bears a little resemblance to the high concept of Lars and the Real Girl. The big difference is that the older film played as a light hearted fantasy while this new film takes the concept and plays it straight as a mostly believable and sweetly heartfelt story of a young man finding his way.

Earlier this year Ryan Gosling starred in Fracture as a young DA facing off with Anthony Hopkins in a film that seemed to announce him, officially to the mainstream audience following his Oscar nominated turn in indie hit Half Nelson. Rather than continue working into the mainstream he follows that up with this performance as an introverted to the extreme young man who has a unique way of working through his issues. If nothing else, he is an actor who looks for challenging roles rather than the easy dollar. It will be interesting to watch as he develops even further.

Lars (Gosling) lives in a room off the garage behind his family's home. His mother died long ago, his father a bit more recently. Inside the house reside his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and his pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). Now Lars is a curious fellow, always begging off Karin's invitations to dinner or breakfast with a series of excuses. He can barely stand to be touched by another person, suffers extreme social awkwardness, and spends much of his time sitting alone in his darkened room. Lars is an outsider, someone who cannot function outside of his rigid routine. He goes to work and home, plus church on the weekends.

One day, Lars' co-worker is surfing some early morning porn and shows him a website that sells anatomically correct "love dolls." I suspect that I need not explain what that is? Anyway, the site gives Lars an idea and six weeks later a coffin sized box arrives on his doorstep. It appears that Lars has found the perfect solution to his social interaction issues. He introduces "Bianca" to his brother and sister-in-law, who react as you would expect.

Gus and Karin take Lars and Bianca to a therapist, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson). Her recommendation is to play along with Lars. He has developed this delusion for a reason and Bianca will be around until it is no longer needed. So, the whole town plays along with Lars' delusion. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but not so far as to be unbelievable. The setting is a small town, and in a close-knit community would it be so impossible to believe that this could happen? Perhaps. The story is presented in a sweet, convincing nature that I had no problem accepting the events.

Lars is a fascinating character, sad and lonely yet sweet and kind. He is trapped within himself, imprisoned by his experience with his father when Gus left the two alone together. At least, that is what is alluded to. In order to come out of his shell Lars is using Bianca as a proxy. Bianca cannot reject him, or touch him, or do anything that he doesn't want. No, there is nothing sexual about the relationship; there is no perverse nature to Lars relationship with the doll. It is a delusion that serves to help Lars readjust his perceptions and allow him to interact with real people.

As portrayed by Gosling, it is is easy to get swept up in Lars' life. Gosling brings a lot to the role, he doesn't just play Lars, he becomes Lars. He gives him a sadness, just look in his eyes, plus the little tics and twitches add so much without being a distraction. The supporting cast is solid as well, all building up to a wonderful film.

Bottomline. Lars and the Real Girl is a wonderful low-key tale of a man finding himself and dealing serious issues on his own terms. It is a story that deals with a mental issue in humorous fashion but never takes the easy route and never makes fun of a serious issue. The film is anchored by Gosling's first rate performance. It may not be what you expect, and it is not a laugh out loud riot, but there is much to be gained from watching it.



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