Movie Review
Lars and the Real Girl
2007
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer
B+


ryan Gosling might get another Oscar nod for Lars and the Real Girl—if anyone sees it. His role is built on the kind of gimmick the Academy loves: Lars is in love with Bianca, a sex doll. Gosling’s performance is a lot subtler than Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball, though it’s not his finest: maybe subtle isn’t for the best word here.

Before Bianca, Lars is a loner, living in the garage of his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’s wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) in a small Midwest town. He can hold a job, but doesn’t hang out with anyone and really doesn’t like to be touched. Then one day he tells Gus and Karin that he’s met a woman on the Internet. Lars is convinced Bianca is a real woman, and cheerfully converses with her. Gus tells him the truth, but Lars just doesn’t process it. The Good Doctor (Patricia Clarkson, predictably good in a thankless role) tells them that humoring Lars will help him and soon the whole town is playing along. Moderately funny and dependably heartwarming results follow.

The responses of critics so far have been more mixed than those of general audiences, not a good sign. But I think the public is right. You’d think it would be clear to everyone that the movie is a fairy tale. Many critics seem to disagree (maybe Calvin and Hobbes has normalized animating the inanimate), chiding the film for its lack of realism. Uh, it’s a movie about a guy who thinks his sex doll is real.


Part of the reason the movie may not be immediately recognizable as a fantasy is that Craig Gillespie shoots it like a standard emo-indie flick. His work is snowfully elegant, but he uses standard tropes, like the far-off widow gazing wistfully at the young couple. (At least he’s efficient: the following shot of the widow walking away is integrated into the background of the couple’s conversation.) And writer Nancy Oliver isn’t interested in building the ridiculousness. Once it’s established, she merely reminds us of it every now and then: Bianca goes to church! Bianca gets a job! Yeah, it would be a funnier and more biting movie if it were genuinely screwball, but it also would’ve lost its gentleness. As it stands, whether you like the movie will depend on whether you think the initial absurdity and the skill of the performers are sufficient to cut through the sentimentality.

Well, you can’t dog the actors. Bianca puts Gosling’s skills to the ultimate test. That Gosling manages to be unusually tender and poignant with a chunk of rubber is a remarkable achievement, and also a waste: there’s no opportunity for the stars to raise each other’s games, like he and Shareeka Epps did so memorably in Half Nelson.

For my money, the standout performance is Mortimer’s. She’s mostly expected to stand around looking sympathetic and gradually getting more pregnant, but she has endless variations of this up her sleeve. Sometimes it comes out physically, as she tackles Lars; sometimes it’s hidden beneath a shocked expression. In her big scene, one of few where a character is allowed to be angry with Lars, she’s mad that he can’t recognize her sympathy, while still being sympathetic—a neat balancing act.

As for the sentimentality, I didn’t find it cloying at all, but maybe that’s because I’m sick of seeing the opposite. Yeah, in real life, not many people are as generous and understanding as the townsfolk in this movie. But not many small towns hide devastating secrets, and not many lonely men are that way because every guy in sight is an asshole. Most movies free of misanthropy are saccharine, but at least Lars, like Mexican Coke, uses real sugar and is packaged distinctively. And hey, most people are nice to people they aren’t afraid of, OK? Both as fantasy and reality, Lars beats Dogville. Lars and the Real Girl is currently playing in limited release.



By: Brad Luen
Published on: 2007-10-25
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