Wisconsin is not really a frozen tundra filled with people in mismatched clothing with no social skills. Well, maybe it is, just not quite to the degree presented in Lars and the Real Girl. I am not the least bit offended rather Im tickled plaid that this motley mishmash of characters plays out their sweet, oddball story in my home state. Ill gladly claim Lars and his entire town as my own, including his adult-sized plastic sex doll.
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is not a social creature. He spends his time alone and any sort of interaction is a painful experience. He lives in a converted garage behind his boyhood home, which is currently inhabited by his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karen (Emily Mortimer). Karen is concerned about Lars she is troubled by his solitude. Gus thinks thats just, well, Lars. Both, however, are shocked when Lars introduces his new girlfriend Bianca, who happens to have arrived in a large crate directly from an internet sex doll company.
Well. Lars seems to have lost it. So what to do in this small town? Concerns over being made fun of, mental illness and worse plague Gus and Karen. What will people say? What is wrong with Lars? When the family practitioner/psychologist informs the couple of exactly what they must do, they balk. But they do it because they love Lars, who seems blissfully unaware of the shockwaves caused by his new inanimate love.
And that, in a very small nutshell, is what Lars and the Real Girl is all about. Its a family and a town who care enough about one troubled, lonely and deeply wounded young man to do whatever it takes to help him. They truly love him, despite his oddities and current inflatable crisis.
The ads for Lars and the Real Girl make it seem primarily a comedy. But dont go in looking for loads of stupid sex jokes and innuendo. Oh, there are some, and there are plenty of very funny moments as the town deals with the inanimate Bianca, but there is much more to this film. Its a sweet drama/comedy with a beautifully written main character. No, not Bianca Lars. Writer Nancy Oliver gives Ryan Gosling this lonely, scared man to play and Gosling inhabits him completely. His perpetual discomfort and deep, sad longing play out across Goslings face, in his posture, in his halting, uncomfortable conversation. Director Craig Gillespie gives Lars and Bianca just the right balance of lighthearted and heartbreaking.
Peripheral characters Karen and Gus are equally well written and played. Gus with his discomfort and impatience, Karen with her nurturing devotion. The film, based on its premise alone, is always in danger of becoming a stupid farce or a study in societal cruelty, yet it never descends into either. Rather than fill the story with external events to be fought during this time of bizarre crisis, we stay with Lars, getting into his head and beginning to understand what led him to Bianca. Intercut are scenes of people doing what they need to do to help, even when it means embracing something singularly unusual. The town might come across as a little Mayberry-esque, but its a welcome change of pace from the usual onslaught of reality. And whos to say people cant really be innately kind? Maybe this is a fairy tale. But maybe people really can give of themselves for someone who is so obviously hurting.
In the end, what makes Lars and the Real Girl such a treat is a combination of writing, acting and the rarely seen concept that sometimes people really are loving and accepting and sometimes that really is what it takes to help someone through a crisis. Lars and the Real Girl wont appeal to everyone. Just the sex doll girlfriend may turn some away. But it is a very sweet, very touching film about a vulnerable man and the steps he takes to deal with his demons. Highly recommended.
This review is part of Lean-n-mean VI. If I can go lean, anyone can!
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