16 December 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

It’s rare these days to see the kind of town envisioned in “Lars and the Real Girl.” Not only does everyone know everyone else, but they generally like them all. They are a true community. They spend time with one another, and when someone is hurting, the rest are there to support them. It’s idyllic in its own way without being overly fanciful.
And it’s a good thing that Lars Lindstrom, played by Ryan Gosling, lives in such a town. If the film was set in a big city, Lars would probably be the victim of scorn and possibly violence. It’s odd that in such a diverse setting Lars would probably face derision for being different, while here in this primarily white middle-class setting he is accepted. For, you see, Lars’s new girlfriend has come to town. Her name is Bianca, and he met her on the internet. She also happens to be a life-size doll.
Such is the central joke of the film. Lars is delusional, and thinks Bianca is a real person. The only human contact he can muster the courage for is directed for someone inanimate. His brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin cannot understand this phase, but at the insistence of Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), they go along with it so that Lars can work out this problem on his own. He gave life to Bianca; he is the only one who can take it away.
They soon convince the other townspeople to support Lars in this emotional crisis, and everyone soon warms to Bianca and treats her as one of their own. The second act of the film is filled with numerous examples of Bianca’s newfound popularity, with Lars increasingly grasping for time with her. As Bianca gets to know everyone, so does Lars, and so he is able to come out of his shell, albeit painfully.
Nancy Oliver’s script is a great achievement in the way it handles such an outlandish premise. Most other writers would probably automatically latch on to the obvious crude humor that could be implied, but here the issue of physical relations between Lars and Bianca is only mentioned once or twice, and never dwelled upon.
For Lars’s problem is not sexual but emotional, and Ryan Gosling’s performance makes this perfectly clear. It’s a testament to both the script and the acting that the film is able to achieve such a unique sense of reality. Instead of dwelling on the inherent silliness and miring itself in running gags, they make you feel that emotional foundation.
Consider a scene in which Lars kisses Bianca. A man kissing a life-size doll is ridiculous, let’s face it. But when that scene happened, the audience I saw it with was almost completely silent, maybe even reverent. People were moved.
But all that’s not to say that the film isn’t funny. It is quite funny. But it balances that humor with the charm and tenderness of a great romance. Some may call it an offbeat film, but in its way it’s more romantic than most any other romantic comedy made these days.

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