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Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Nancy Oliver

You can only imagine how hard of a sell this movie was.  A man with an aversion to human contact orders a blow-up doll to become his girlfriend.  Not one that he keeps in his closet to ravage when he’s lonely, but one he actually takes out in public and introduces to his friends as a real person.  Maybe a couple of studios wanted it at first, maybe to change it to a raunchy comedy (a one-joke one at that).  But surprise, Lars and the Real Girl is one of the most moral movies you’ll ever run across, with hardly anything to offend.  And it also happens to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Lars Lindstrom is played by Ryan Gosling, who is so good you wonder if he’s the only movie star actually getting paid to act anymore.  He lives in a separate house on the property he and his brother Gus (the excellent Paul Schneider of The Assassination of Jesse James) have inherited from their father.  Gus is married to the pregnant Karin (Emily Mortimer), the one who really wants to get Lars out of his shell, come over for dinner occasionally, find a girl for once.

Lars has some issues over his mother dying during childbirth, and being left with an emotionally-distraught single father while his older brother decided to avoid the depression by leaving the household.  He orders the blow-up doll Bianca and introduces it to his family, having conversations with it (and in a nice touch, even making it seem like he’s getting interrupted every once in awhile; Gosling makes all of this very real).  And while Gus and Karin feel the need to take him to a Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) under the guise of helping Bianca, it undeniably breaks Lars from his emotional detachment and he becomes a little more outgoing.

The real girl is Margo (Kelli Garner in a winning performance), who Lars hasn’t grown up enough yet to ask out despite numerous advances in his direction.  As Dagmar lays it out for Gus and Karin, Lars is going to have to play make-believe with his doll ”until he doesn’t need it anymore.”  So with the help of the small church-going town, everyone finds a use for Bianca to make her “feel” like one of them.

The movie is right in pointing out that Lars’ blow-up doll is just another weird thing people go through to make sense of the world.  In a subtle touch, the movie also makes points about things like action figures and teddy bears standing in for doors to adulthood.

I’m sure there will be a few people who think that there’s no way that a church-going town like this would be up to the task of making Bianca seem real, and while I agree with that, I don’t think that this should in any way be taken literally.  Bianca is a symbol for many things and should be interpreted as such.  The fact that she is a blow-up doll just makes it more entertaining.  It’s a wonderful script from Six Feet Under’s Nancy Oliver.

Across the board, performances are amazing.  I don’t really have to say much more about Gosling here, because he clearly knows what he’s doing.  Watch the scene where, even subtly, Dagmar is telling him that Bianca “needs her rest.”  You can see his mannerisms begin to revert back to the walled-in self he was before he bought the doll.  Just for that alone, Gosling should get Oscar consideration.

But everyone is good.  Emily Mortimer turns in a fantastic job, and I mentioned Schneider and my new love, Kelli Garner.  Patricia Clarkson is great.  The minor supporting cast is superb.  All of this coming from director Craig Gillespie, who just a few weeks ago turned in the comedy turkey Mr. Woodcock.  It remains to be seen whether Woodcock was one of those “do one for us” movies that allowed him to do this one.  These two movies, making him a member of the 2-movie club of 2007 joining James Wan, are his only credits until 2009.

When this comes to your neighborhood, it should not be missed.

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