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6 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Lars and the Real Girl
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Rubber? I Barely Know Her!"
5 stars

“Lars and the Real Girl” is a film with a central premise that sounds so self-consciously odd on the surface that I suspect that simply hearing it will cause most potential viewers to recoil from it in distaste. After all, how would you honestly react if I told you that it was a film about a painfully shy young man who embarks on a deeply serious and heartfelt relationship with a life-size doll? Throw in the fact that it was directed by the same guy responsible for the crude recent misfire “Mr. Woodcock” and I suspect that many of you, even those of you with a taste for off-beat cinematic treats, might be inclined to give this particular entry the widest berth possible in favor of something a little more plausible, such as “The Comebacks” or “30 Days of Night.”. That may be true but it would be your loss, however, for “Lars and the Real Girl” is so much more than the sum of its premise–it is actually a sweet, hilarious and surprisingly moving fable that is not only one of the best film that I have seen so far this year, it may well be the finest, strangest and most emotional romantic comedy-drama to come along since “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

Our hero is Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), a young man living in a small and eternally frozen Wisconsin town. At first glance, Lars appears to be normal enough–he is polite, presentable and one of his co-workers (Kelli Garner) has a more-than-obvious crush on him–but as we soon discover, a crucial switch in his head was never flipped and as a result, he has been all but struck dumb with an acute case of shyness. Despite the fact that everyone who knows him adores him, he spends virtually all of his time hunkered down in the garage of his family home, where he lives, while trying to dodge nightly dinner invitations from his well-meaning sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), who lives in the main house with his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider). One night, Lars comes to the house with some astounding news for Karin and Gus: he has met a young woman–a former missionary, no less–named Bianca on-line and she has come to stay with him–since she is religious, could she possibly stay in the house with them? Needless to say, they are shocked but delighted and immediately agree to put Bianca up and are soon just shocked when he brings her over and she turns out to be a life-size doll–one of those anatomically-correct numbers that tend to be purchased exclusively by those people with large bank accounts and zero social skills. If that weren’t strange enough, Lars treats her as though she were a real person–he has conversations with her and even pushes her around in a wheelchair.

While Gus is understandably appalled by what he believes to be Lars’ insanity, Karin deals with the situation by simply accepting the reality of Bianca and treating her in the same manner that Lars does. The next day, she and Gus take Lars and Bianca to the local doctor (Patricia Clarkson), ostensibly to give Bianca a check-up (“Her blood pressure is low”) but obviously to see if Lars has finally cracked up. Her diagnosis is that there is nothing actually wrong with him at all and that the best thing to do in regards to the Bianca situation is to simply let it play out over time. Of course, that is easy enough to do within the confines of the house but what happens when Lars wants to take her to church or to the local mall? Amazingly, the local townspeople love Lars so much that everyone–even Lars’ would-be office crush–is willing to play along and embrace Bianca as well, so much so that she eventually gets a job and becomes a popular volunteer at the local hospital. As time goes on, the relationship between Lars and Bianca changes and evolves in surprising ways before concluding in the manner of most lasting and deeply-felt romances.

In the hands of most people, the premise of a guy forging a relationship with a life-size sex doll would result in one of two kinds of films–a smutty comedy filled with crude humor or a creepy horror film in which Lars’ break from reality grows more and more pronounced over time. (Actually, someone already made a film utilizing the latter premise a couple of years ago in the flawed-but-interesting indie film”Love Object.”) “Lars and the Real Girl,” on the other hand, goes off in a completely different direction to tell a story that effortlessly blends strangeness with sweetness in a way that suggests what might have resulted if David Lynch and Frank Capra had ever managed to collaborate on a project. As ridiculous as the concept may sound, it works because Nancy Oliver’s screenplay handles the potentially outrageous subject matter in a low-key and realistic manner instead of going for obvious jokes and because Craig Gillespie’s direction similarly finds the right tonal balance that keeps things from skewing as too strange or too silly. Because of their commitment to taking the story seriously (while still finding room for a lot of big laughs) instead of turning it into a sitcom, “Lars and the Real Girl” transcends what is essentially a one-joke premise into a fully-thought-out work that honestly earns both its laughs and its more sentimental moments. In fact, as the story progresses and becomes more serious, you may find yourself surprised with just how emotional it gets as it progresses towards its poignant and eminently satisfying conclusion.

Although we are typically meant to think that the hardest roles for an actor to play are the attention-getting ones in which they have to affect some kind of accent or physical or mental handicap, those parts are actually pretty easy to pull off in a way–since they are almost always about the accent or the handicap, the performer’s work is about 90% done once they master those technical details. A film like “Lars and the Real Girl,” on the other hand, is actually far more of a challenge for an actor because it contains the kind of roles that require absolute sincerity on their part if it is to have any chance of working–if there is ever a single moment where it seems as if any of them are self-consciously playing up to the weirdness or to the humorous aspects in a way that calls attention to itself, the spell would be broken and all we in the audience would wind up seeing is the sight of a bunch of actors pretending that a life-size sex doll is actually a real person. Luckily, all of the performers here find the right tone for their parts–Mortimer is sweet and funny in the way that her character into the whole Bianca situation in an instant as a way of finally connecting with her odd brother-in-law, Patricia Clarkson is highly effective in her scenes as the doctor whose “treatments” of Bianca allow Lars another way of reaching out to the real world and Kelli Garner is heartbreakingly convincing as the girl who is so fond of Lars despite his blinkered disinterest–with her own fondness for the stuffed animals at her desk, it is obvious that they are kindred spirits–that she is even willing to befriend her rubber-based rival for his affections in order to get closer to him.

However, the performance that holds “Lars and the Real Girl” together–so much so that I cannot imagine another actor who could have possibly pulled it off to the degree that he does–is the central one from the brilliant young actor Ryan Gosling as Lars. In the past, you have seen Gosling (or maybe not) in films that have ranged from the edgy likes of “The Believer” and “Half Nelson” to more commercial endeavors such as “The Notebook,” “Murder By Numbers”and “Fracture” Some of those films have been good and some have been quite bad but in each one of them, Gosling has tackled the material with the kind of fierce commitment and determination that is reminiscent of Sean Penn in his early heyday. He brings that same level of commitment to the role of Lars but he does it in such an offhand and seemingly effortless way that you are too busy falling under his spell to notice the work involved. Watch him in his scenes with Bianca–even though he is acting opposite a piece of plastic, he genuinely makes you believe that she is a living, breathing person in his eyes and as a result, the Lars-Bianca relationship is more convincing than most of the entirely flesh-and-blood one that you have likely encountered on a movie screen in recent months. Like the film it supports, his work is a strange and quirky treasure that is not to be missed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16346&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/19/07 00:32:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2007 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/30/10 MP Bartley A lovely and beautiful film. 5 stars
7/05/08 AnnieG A truly unique film with a small town I'd LIKE to live in. 4 stars
5/17/08 ed moriartystrange strange premise but hopeful ending 4 stars
3/18/08 jcjs33 astounding, art, clever, acting, music, touching, original, captivating, refreshing, large 5 stars
11/18/07 Jacob This guy slams on Gosling? This particular critic continues to carve out horrible reviews. 5 stars
11/10/07 baron touching, well-acted, and thought-provoking 5 stars
10/29/07 Darren Shea A sweet movie with a good balance between humor and poignancy 4 stars
10/28/07 Private Finds the right tone and makes for an enjoyable character driven film. 4 stars
10/27/07 Elizabeth Nice performances by the three leads. 3 stars
10/17/07 Pontifico Great movie! You should see it yesterday! 5 stars
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  12-Oct-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 15-Apr-2008



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