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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.28%
Average: 29.79%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

6 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Lars and the Real Girl
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by Erik Childress

"It’s Nothing Of A Sexual Nature, I Assure You"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Maybe we can thank Howard Stern, but we’re part of a world where you can almost program a film festival strictly for the love doll crowd. OK, maybe its just a trilogy right now, but it’s a start. Hopefully you haven’t bailed yet on me. I just intend to get all the lascivious references to this topic out of the way up front. There was Monique, a 2002 French comedy where a bored husband lives out his fantasies with the life-sized doll. The creepy Love Object involved a boring office worker whose sex doll invades his psyche and lures him to committing some nasty acts on its behalf. You get the idea why certain men purchase these items. Now onto the film proper. And there couldn’t be a more appropriate base adjective to convince you that Lars and the Real Girl is nothing like those other films. It has nothing to do with male fantasies and yet is itself a fantasy that evolves the more it connects with the audience’s understanding of its reach. By its end the only thing it will be stroking are your heartstrings. Last joke, I swear.

The Lars of the title is played by Ryan Gosling. 27 years old and living in the remodeled garage out back of his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider) and his sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), Lars is an introvert of the first order. Practically retreating like Rain Man anytime Karin eagerly invites him over for dinner, Lars politely keeps to himself and is so shielded that he doesn’t recognize the slightly-less reserved Margo (Kelli Garner) at work trying to catch his eye. One day after his porn-lovin’ cubicle partner shows co-workers a website for “Real Dolls”, which Lars casually dismisses, a package arrives at his home and he tells Karin he’d like to bring over a guest for dinner.

Bianca isn’t much of a conversationalist, but Lars can hear her. He even knows her whole backstory as a missionary while everyone else sees her as a wheelchair-propped mannequin designed rather for her lack of clothing. Gus and Karin’s initial reaction obviously is that Lars has finally gone off the deep end. Though when they consult the local psychologist (Patricia Clarkson), she advises them to go along with Lars’ delusion rather than burst his bubble while he’s evidently working out some deep-rooted issues. As this is a town small enough to know Lars’ shy, church-going demeanor, they are able to carefully convince others to treat Bianca as part of the community.

It all sounds strange and beyond rational believability to embrace this awkward situation, but Nancy Oliver’s script is far more meaningful than to just go for cheap laughs and maudlin drama. Gently working in Lars’ history as someone who may have felt abandoned by not only his brother (who left home much earlier) but suffers the guilt of a mom who died in childbirth, there’s a subtlety to Oliver’s diagnosis of her main character. Without forcing Clarkson’s doctor to spell it all out for us, we are able to draw conclusions from Karin’s pregnancy as a catalyst and the frightening pain Lars feels upon mere touch from another human being. This is a man-child who isn’t ready to move on to what Margo is offering but is making the baby steps with Bianca into letting go of problems which may be as much of a built-up fantasy to excuse himself from being a part of society.

How audiences respond to the outrageousness of this scenario is dependent on the performances, all of which walk a tightrope between the sublime and the ridiculous. Emily Mortimer couldn’t have been better cast as the caring sister-in-law, so eager to welcome Lars in that you can sense her own sadness from her inability to breakthrough. Just as she appears tear-ready in every scene, Paul Schneider’s equally cautious brother looks ready to lash out in confusion over his brother’s “illness” and anger at himself for possibly contributing to it’s inception. Most guilty of all of judging before all the facts are in is myself and the way I callously called out Ryan Gosling earlier this year in Fracture for believing I had seen everything in his bag of tricks. Boy, was I wrong. Not only did Gosling completely floor me with his performance as Lars, but this is easily the best work of his young and continually promising career. At first Gosling resembles David Arquette’s work in the Scream series, kinda unsure of his own skin and keeping eye contact at a minimum. But the more Lars’ story unfolds, so does Gosling’s performance and the growing need to connect with something other than the layers of skin he has hidden behind for so long.

The beauty that is famously only skin deep reaches deeper than just the inner sort in Lars and the Real Girl. There can be something equally beautiful about sadness when its explored and not exploited. I was smiling much of the way while my innards were feeling something untapped by most modern tearjerkers. As Lars begins putting his fantasies to rest, there’s a profoundly intimate understanding of what he’s going through and you may be equally surprised at exactly what you’re shedding a tear for. Lars brings us right up to the precipice of plausibility and then provides the hand on our shoulder that makes it OK for us to get in touch with ourselves and those who make us a whole. The final moment of the film before fade-to-black is a shining light of hope that most romantic comedies would kill to craft a fantasy around. Lars does it effortlessly, if not without a little help from his friends.

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originally posted: 10/12/07 14:00:00
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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
5/18/08 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
11/19/07 Jacob This guy slams on Gosling? This particular critic continues to carve out horrible reviews. 5 stars
11/11/07 baron touching, well-acted, and thought-provoking 5 stars
10/30/07 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
10/18/07 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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