#288: Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

A grown man falls in love with a sex doll. Behind this crude, Farrelly brothers offcut premise is a tale with heart and melancholy.

Ryan Gosling stars as the titular Lars, an introverted 27 year old living in the converted garage apartment of his deceased father’s small-town home. Living next to his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his expecting wife Karin (Emily Mortimer), the pair constantly attempt to pull Lars out of his incubated life.

Longing for companionship, Lars is goaded on by a work colleague to buy a personalised sex doll called Bianca. After an awkward dinner double date, Gus and Karin consult local psychiatrist Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) who diagnosis the lonesome Lars as delusional. With no real cure, Dagmar convinces the concerned duo, and the rest of the local townsfolk, to support Lars through this delusional crisis, and treat Bianca as human until he comes to his senses and outlives her.

A psychoanalytical minefield, first-time director Craig Gillespie and former Six Feet Under writer Nancy Oliver treat the whole shebang as a lighthearted dramedy; fortunately sparing us the gory, bedroom details of the duos relationship.

Deadpan would be an understatement for how Lars and the Real Girl unravels. Aside from a few funny ‘WTF?’ moments when Lars first introduces Bianca to his brother and sister-in-law, I found little to no humour in this movie. In the absence of laughs, there is an insipid undertone which is never fully explored. Although Lars’ relationship with the anatomically correct piece of plastic is platonic (they sleep in separate beds as Lars ‘deeply religious’), we are expected to be comfortable and sympathetic with his condition, just like everyone on screen. This willingness to go along with the bonkers premise ended up being too ridiculous for me to tolerate when Bianca is deemed ‘sick’ and is picked up in an ambulance and rushed to hospital (COME ON!). These small implausibility problems grated on me as they make the film too neutral and sugar-coated to leave an everlasting impact.

It’s all saved by some fantastic performances. Clarkson brings some real heart to the movie as the maternal psychiatrist struggling with her infertility, whilst Mortimer and Schneider put some well-needed light into the dour tale as the do-gooding couple next door. They all pale into insignificance next to Ryan Gosling, who spent a month in isolation, ‘getting to know’ the Bianca doll prior to the 31 day production run. Away from the rough edges of Half Nelson and Fracture, it’s remarkable how his warbling performance as the perpetual loner is so resolute and captivating. Although it may be a (t)wee blip in his monumental career, Lars and the Real Girl shows Gosling at his most fragile, most endearing, and perhaps his most real.

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