“Are you sure? It’s not growing back”
I was very worried about how I would take Lars and the Real Girl. Despite an Oscar nominated script, a cast of some of my favorites, and a quirky enough plot to pique my interest, I still had many people in whom I trust their judgment telling me that it was horrible. That right there tells you how different each and everyone of us are and how tastes are fickle and unique. I really liked this film more than I ever could have imagined. Despite the start being very awkward to watch—Ryan Gosling is fantastic in this role showing how sheltered and introverted he is—that introduction into the Lindstrom family is absolutely necessary for the rest to make sense. When the doll Bianca is finally added to the mix, the unexpected occurs. This small community may laugh and may make faces, but they also band together and fully support one of their own. The most heartwarming tale that I have seen in a long time, Craig Gillespie and Nancy Oliver have crafted a real gem; a study of the human heart and how love can really conquer even that which seems permanently broken.
Every step of the way is absolutely genuine and believable. The plot is never utilized for laughs, although the laughs do come out. However, rather than events playing to the big joke, the story lends itself to subtle giggling and uncomfortable laughter. You will truly feel bad for Gosling’s Lars as he is a very troubled young man. At so many instances I couldn’t help but say to myself, “oh my god, don’t do it.” When Lars takes Bianca to the party being thrown by his co-worker, I cringed at what could be coming as soon as he rang that doorbell. Instead, screenwriter Oliver really surprised me by allowing all his friends and those from the community to totally support his delusion and the fact that he is crying out for help. They all answer the call and it really is a beautiful thing to behold.
Credit all involved for also allowing the story to slowly unravel, explaining how Lars could have gotten to this point. At the start you just think he is an awkward man that can’t deal with society or physical contact. He wears layers and backs off when someone attempts to touch his shoulder or give him a hug. There is an entire backstory as to why he shudders at the touch of another human, though, why he actually experiences pain as if that part of his body had been badly burned. Each slice of the story is unraveled as we delve deeper and deeper into his psyche during his “sessions” in therapy and his eye opening experiences seeing how much those around him care. His fear of losing those he loves is so strong that he would rather never feel the joy of it to make sure he wouldn’t have to feel the loss. Watching his father live in sadness for so long after his mother died in childbirth had a lasting effect on him in that regard. Only when his sister-in-law, the always-radiant Emily Mortimer, finally snaps in a big fight about who cares for whom does Lars start to see what has been in front of him all these years. It is my favorite scene of the film and both actors are superb in it.
Each character is sincere and completely real. Patricia Clarkson is great as the doctor with a psychologist degree, playing with Lars’ head by having him bring Bianca in for tests in order to evaluate him while she “rests.” Clarkson is the crucial piece to the puzzle, letting him talk through his issues and vocalize them to himself so that he can see where he is going wrong. Kelli Garner is perfect as the girl pining over Lars. Her Margo is desperately in love with him despite all his attempts to ignore her. You see the pain mixed with love in her face and eyes, never letting anyone make fun of him, but instead being there no matter what outcome results. And last but not least is the wonderful Paul Schneider as Lars’ brother. He has to be one of the most overlooked actors in the business despite being at the top of his game in everything. The evolution he goes through is by far the most noticeable as he begins to cope and understand his part in his brother’s degeneration.
I can’t end the review without mention of Bianca, the doll. This prop could have easily become a joke and reason for people to just stop caring for anything that was going on. Instead it becomes a catalyst for those onscreen to really step up. Bianca is just an extension of Lar’s psyche, manifested for all to see. Her life span is handled with great care and compassion as it concludes in the only realistic way possible. While the synopsis of Lars and the Real Girl may seem trite and implausible, once you experience it, you will see that it isn’t that far from reality at all. Some people just lose themselves and turn for help in strange ways. Lars is just like any of us, a man trying to find something special and worthwhile in life, something to keep on living for.
Lars and the Real Girl 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
“Ryan Gosling stars as Lars Lindstrom in the heartfelt comedy LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, starring Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner and directed by Craig Gillespie, opening this fall.” Photo Credit: George Kraychyk