You know what? This movie made me cry. I am not going to even hide that fact. Don’t care if you think my reaction is lame or whatever. This movie hit me hard, and that is a tribute to the writing, the acting, and the direction. “Lars And The Real Girl” is a wonderfully heartfelt movie that takes a ridiculous premise and brings a lot of genuine emotion to it. From a distance, you would think that this movie would be tailor made for someone like Adam Sandler, and this would be a perfect type for some crude and juvenile humor. It says a lot about this movie that it does not sink to that level, and that it succeeds in finding a big heart and seriousness in a situation that many would find completely absurd.
“Lars And The Real Girl” stars Ryan Gosling as Lars Lindstrom, a painfully shy young man who lives in the garage of a house where his brother (Paul Schneider) and his pregnant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) live. Lars is a key example of someone with social anxiety disorder. He gets so intensely uncomfortable around people, even the ones he is closest to. His life is made up of routines of going to work and going to church on Sundays. Aside from that, he avoids human contact at every opportunity. It takes his sister-in-law literally tackling him in order to get him to come eat dinner with them. But all this slowly starts to change when Lars finally gets a girlfriend. His brother and sister-in-law are thrilled to hear about this, and then they meet her…
Lars’ girlfriend’s name is Bianca, but the problem is, she is not actually a real person. Bianca is a sex doll that Lars ordered off of the internet. However, Lars is not using her for sex at all. In his mind, Bianca is from Brazil and cannot move around without the assistance of a wheelchair. Lars is completely smitten with her and wants to have a deep and meaningful relationship with her, and it is never about reaching a physical plateau for him at all. When he adheres to his religion, he asks Karin and Gus to let Bianca sleep in their guest room. I guess he saw living together without being married as a sin.
The reaction on Gus’ and Karin’s face when they first see Bianca is classic (especially Karin’s). Lars’ brother is convinced that his brother is crazy, and is afraid that he may have to commit him. They end up taking Lars and Bianca to the hospital where they have the two of them meet up with widowed doctor and psychiatrist Dagmar (the always wonderful Patricia Clarkson) who basically encourages everyone to play along with Lars and accept his delusion of the relationship he has with Bianca. She sees it as something Lars has to live out so that we can understand him better and to get an idea of what his problems are.
Now at this point, you would feel like you know where this film is going. Lars is going to make a fool of himself by taking Bianca around the town and having everyone laugh at him and look at him like he is a complete idiot. I kept fearing that someone would come along and slash at Bianca, making her deflate completely. But the small town that Lars lives in comes to completely accept her for who she is, and they end up getting Bianca involved in many different activities.
Watching this movie, I cannot help but think that had Hollywood gotten their hands on this, that they would have completely destroyed it. From a distance, you can see some bosses thinking that this could be a great comedy with crude and obnoxious humor that could have easily sold to the youth of America today. But the movie is so well written and well directed, and it provides us with many different characters that are completely down to earth and not just simple stereotypes. They are people we know from our own small neighborhoods that we grew up in, and they remind us so easily of how these tight knit communities can feel like such an extended family.
The movie was directed by Craig Gillespie, and he directed another recently released movie called “Mr. Woodchuck.” That movie stars Billy Bob Thornton, Sean William Scott, and Susan Sarandon in that other movie that looked like it did get dumbed down by the Hollywood studios. My guess is that Craig had a much better experience with this movie than with “Mr. Woodchuck” because just from the trailers, that movie looks like a routine comedy that never strays from its given formula. Hopefully, he will have more opportunities to work on movies like this in the future.
The writer of the movie is Nancy Oliver, and she is now one of the many writers of the WGA who is on strike and walking the picket lines until the studios give the writers a financial compensation they so utterly deserve. I looked her up on IMDB, and she has written many episodes for the acclaimed HBO show “Six Feet Under.” Like that show, this is a very quirky and unusual story that she really succeeds in grounding in reality. She does not have these characters interacting in some superficial world that we see on so many other TV shows these days.
But what really elevates all those great elements in this movie is the acting, and there isn’t a single weak performance in the movie. The best performance by far in this movie is by Ryan Gosling, who has already made a big name for himself in Hollywood. Ryan makes not just the characters around him believe in the reality of Bianca, but he makes the audience believe in her too. He takes what could have been some utterly laughable moments in the movie, and makes you see the pain that inhabits them. There are moments where he is arguing with Bianca, and in any other movie you would be laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But the movie has already long since established Bianca as a major character in the story, and she becomes almost every bit as real to us as she does to Lars. Ryan makes us care about Lars almost instantly from the get go, and we want to see him crawl out of his shell throughout the movie desperately.
One of my other favorite performances in this movie is from Emily Mortimer who plays Lars’ pregnant sister-in-law Karin. She is so lovely and you just want to give her a big hug. She cares a lot about Lars and does not want him to feel alone and isolated in this world, and it gets to that point where she literally and yet lovingly tackles him so that he can come to dinner with her and her brother. She also has one of the movies best scenes in the movie where she confronts Lars and makes him realize that the town has accepted Bianca for who she is because they care so much about him.
One of the more underrated performances that come out of this movie is from Paul Schneider who plays Lars’ brother Gus. At first, his character looks like he will become a cliché; a guy who thinks his brother is utterly crazy, and whose bias of his situation threatens to drive him and his wife apart. But what the situation actually does is make him look at his relationship between him and his brother and accept some responsibility for it.
We never truly learn why Lars is as shy as he is. We get hints of how he acts the way he does throughout the movie, but never a straightforward answer. Maybe his character doesn’t need one. The movie is really the journey of how Lars emerges from outside of himself, and we desperately want to see him do just that.
There is also great work done here by Patricia Clarkson, who is wonderful in just about everything she does, as the doctor who tries to get at the root of Lars’ problems. This also could have been a clichéd relationship that we have seen before in “The Prince Of Tides” and “Good Will Hunting,” but Patricia’s character is a doctor who is almost stuck in the same predicament as Lars is. She is a widower; her husband has died and they never had any children which she regrets deep down. She has very strong moments with Ryan that are clearly expressed without words. Now that is film acting!
I also really liked Kelli Garner who plays Margo, the girl with an almost hopeless crush on Lars. She really represents the breakthrough that Lars needs into the real world, and there was such a strong part of me that wants to see these two get together. Whether they do or not, I will leave it to you to witness. This could have been another clichéd character, but again, the acting and the writing elevate it so much above that. Kelli’s character is a really nice girl, and she is not the annoying cliché that we might have expected her to be.
This is a great movie, and one of the most moving that I have seen this year. I never expected it to tug at my heart so much, and this is a movie that was made with a lot of love and care. This is especially commendable considering that this movie was made in the space of 31 days. It has not gotten the audience that it deserves so far, mainly because of the fact that the marketplace of movies is currently an overcrowded one. The problem right now is not quality, but quantity. If this movie is playing near you, I strongly recommend that you check it out. This movie right now has a better chance of reaching an audience on DVD, but it would be nice to see it get a bigger audience while it is still on the big screen.
Damn it! This movie made me sad…Oh wait, that’s not such a bad thing.
**** out of ****