Lars and the Real Girl (USA; 106 min.)

directed by: Craig Gillespie
starring: Ryan Gosling; Emily Mortimer; Paul Schneider; Patricia Clarkson; Kelli Garner
Lars and the Real Girl

Michael says: "To think this is the second film that I have seen in four years that prominently features a Real Doll (the first being the low-budget, creepy horror flick, LOVE OBJECT.) LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is a whimsical and poignant look at mental illness, coping with grief, and an all-too rare looking at a community loving and caring for one of their own. Lars lives alone in the garage of the house left to him and his brother when their father died. His brother Gus, and his pregnant wife Karin live in the main house, but Lars, while polite and good-natured, avoids contact with them as much as possible. When he comes over one night to introduce them to his new girlfriend, Bianca, explaining that she doesn’t know much English and she’s in a wheelchair, the two are nearly doing cartwheels with joy and excitement. That all changes when Lars introduces them to Bianca; an incredibly life-like doll. For Lars, Bianca is the real deal, and at their doctor’s suggestion, Gus and Karin treat Bianca as real as well. Soon the whole town has accepted the newcomer to their tiny, Midwestern town tucked near the Canadian border. They interact with her, they invite her to parties, they hire her, they even give her awards. The reason for this mass delusion stems from a love of one of their own: the awkward, socially inept Lars, whose mother died in childbirth leaving him with a father who loved his children, but was himself heartbroken with grief.

"This screenplay could have really misfired on film. Screenwriter Nancy Oliver, who has written several episodes of the television show ‘Six Feet Under,’ is careful to avoid most of the usual conventions of the Hollywood screenplay. Instead she turns out something so gentle, so sweetly effective, that I had tears in my eyes practically the whole way through. Director Craig Gillespie (could his other work truly be MR. WOODCOCK?) handles things deftly and with a light touch. He is clearly an actor’s director, because the performances he gets out of his cast are astounding.

"And for me, the cast truly makes this film. Ryan Gosling (Chlotrudis Best Actor nominee for HALF NELSON) is heart-breakingly perfect as Lars, drowning in a loss he can’t even understand and spurning human comfort to defend himself. His grimaces and facial tics; eccentric layered wardrobe, poorly trimmed moustache, and awkward physicality combine with an innocence that translates sublimely on screen. Paul Schneider (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) surprises as Gus, who at first seems like he’s going to be the boorish, uncaring pseudo-villain of the piece but who morphs into an older brother struggling with the guilt of leaving, and the helplessness of caring for a delusional younger brother. Since making a splash in Nicole Holfocener’s LOVELY & AMAZING, Emily Mortimer has maintained a pretty consistent level of strong performances, and her compassionate, yet feisty Karin continues the trend. Kelli Garner is delightfully adorable as Lars’ co-worker Margo, who clearly has a crush on him. Imagine my surprise to find that Garner was one of the young 'huffers' in LOVE, LIZA! And speaking of consistent, Patricia Clarkson’s dry, calm and caring Doctor Dagmar Stearn is just perfect. Seeing Clarkson in a role, whether supporting or lead, is so reassuring, and her presence here provides the authority to buy into the bizarre circumstances unfolding before us. The smaller parts filling the town are all just right with not a misstep among the large cast. It’s definitely in contention for the Best Ensemble Cast award for me.

"LARS AND THE PERFECT GIRL is pretty much my kind of movie. It’s sweet, poignant, funny and gentle. There aren’t really any ‘bad guys.’ The acting is rock solid. What else could you want from a movie? I highly recommend this for everyone. 5 cats"

Bruce says: "Lars Lindstrum (Ryan Gosling) is a strange bird. That much we know from the start. Margo (Kelli Garner), a girl at work, has a hopeless crush on him but Lars ignores her hints about their getting together. He prefers to be alone and often sits in his garage apartment in the dark. His brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Karin (Emily Mortimer), his sister-in-law, repeatedly invite him to the main house (formerly owned by his now deceased parents) but he always begs off. Everyone he knows is subtly trying to play matchmaker. Mrs. Gruner (Nancy Beatty) at the church is blunter in her approach. “Are you gay?” she asks. His “no” sounds firm and self-assured. So what is Lars’ problem? Screenwriter Nancy Oliver wisely ignores the details of Lars pathology, giving the viewer just enough information to understand the concept without getting bogged down in a myriad of medical facts and opinions. After all, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is about the process of healing.

"As Lars comes to work one morning his cubicle mate is looking at porn, specifically a website that features a design-her-yourself, life-size inflatable doll. Lars feigns disgust but several days later a huge package arrives at the garage. Lars unpacks Bianca a “half Brazilian, half Danish girl who was orphaned and raised by nuns.” Lars claims Bianca was a nurse before she arrived on Lars’ doorstep; she no longer works as she suffers from some mysterious malady, one which requires a wheelchair. Lars and Bianca have private conversations.

"Lars' behavior changes immediately; he asks if he can bring Bianca to the main house. Lars gleams with tickled-pink excitement as he introduces Bianca to his family. Gus immediately wants Lars locked up in the loony bin but Karin quickly suggests they all take Bianca to Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), the family internist. Dagmar envisions that Bianca will require an indefinite number of “treatments” during which she will need rest. While Bianca lies on the examining table Dagmar engages Lars in conversation, probing for information about Bianca. At church, Karin and Gus alert the parishioners about Bianca. The word quickly spreads around town. Instead of people poking fun at Lars or, worse, making a fool of him, the people of the town rally around his fantasy. Soon Bianca is attending church services, joining civic organizations, and going to parties - even hitting the dance floor when the host asks her to dance.

"Maintaining one’s own fantasies is demanding. Keeping someone else’s fantasies alive is an endless juggling act. How long Lars’ co-workers can maintain the charade is questionable. Karin is many months pregnant and she and Gus worry how they can keep Lars’ delusion going. Dagmar is not confident her sessions with Lars will get him to the point where he no longer needs a fantasy to function. The turning point in the film is when Lars asks Bianca to marry him. According to Lars her answer is “No.” Can Lars survive the rejection? Even worse, Bianca’s health seems to be failing. Can Lars survive such a crisis?

"Gosling is magnificent and the entire cast also shines. Most dramas and many comedies focus on the darker side of human nature. It is a joy to find a film that probes the depths of human decency. Now that may sound a bit hokey but LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is neither maudlin nor phony. It is a decidedly intelligent and genuine film, the real thing. 5 cats"