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Friday Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Genre: Comedy/Framily Drama
Grade: B

At first glance, the premise of this film is hard to believe. A grown man buying a sex doll and then going around pretending she’s alive? Oh, that has to be a joke. Well, it is and it isn’t and it ends up being a movie I didn’t think I’d like but ended up being charmed by.

Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is the quiet younger brother who lives out in a converted garage at his childhood home. His older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) live in the main house and try, usually without success, to get Lars to come over for dinner and socialize some. But shy Lars prefers his own company and ducks the attention of a pretty coworker and well meaning friends too.

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One day his cubicle mate calls him over to look at something which turns out to be a website for a company offering lifelike adult dolls. A few weeks later, a large box arrives at the garage and that evening Lars pops over to the house and announces he’d like to bring his girlfriend for dinner. Initially thrilled that Lars might be coming out of his shell, Gus and Karin are astounded and horrified that Lars truly seems to think the doll, “her name is Bianca,” is real.

They quickly bundle him off to the local doctor, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), who tells them that this is something Lars will have to work out in his own time and they need to play along. So after some raised eyebrows, sideways glances and smothered smirks the small town does just that. Then waits to see just why it is that Lars feels the need express his fears and childhood issues with a life sized, anatomically correct, silicone doll. But as he’s working out his psychological needs, will he miss a chance for a real relationship?

Okay so to answer the question I know everyone is dying to ask, no there is no sex in this movie. No nudity, no profanity, no car chases, no standard Hollywood fillers at all. Lars is so chaste that he asks Gus and Karin if Bianca can sleep in the guest room while he stays out in the garage. Which is when Karin gets the chance to check the doll to be able to tell her friends at lunch – yes, Bianca really has a…you know. To which her friends laughingly say, then she’s just one of the girls!

The way the town supports Lars is delightful. No, there’s probably no way this would ever happen in real life but here, in the frozen north during winter, the people who know and care for Lars play their roles beautifully. If Bianca is what he needs to deal with his fears for his pregnant sister-in-law – his own mother died during his delivery – then so be it. If caring for Bianca is the way for him to slowly accept touches and hugs – he and Gus were raised by a taciturn, grief stricken father – okay then. Indeed Bianca becomes such a part of everyone’s life that when Lars announces she’s terminally ill, church ladies come to the house with casseroles and sit with the family during the evening. Then the town turns out for a memorial service and funeral. And we see in the end that Lars might be ready to move on to real dating.

This character could have come off as a weirdo, but Gosling makes us see him as a sweet, shy guy who has some hang-ups he needs to get out of the way to move on in life. His, and the townspeople’s, interactions with “Bianca” are timed perfectly and by the end of the film, you’ll be ready to swear the doll truly is real. Schneider and Mortimer are fantastic as they try and deal with Lars’s fantasy world at the same time as they worry about his mental health. The looks on Schneider’s face are especially priceless as in one scene when he senses something is wrong and his wife tells him that Lars and Bianca just had a big fight. And then there’s the moving scene during which Gus and Lars discuss their childhood and the guilt that Gus feels that he might, in some small way, be responsible for Lars’s inability to connect well with others. It’s a wonderful interaction between the two brothers and handled amazingly by the two actors.

I finish the movie thinking that Lars is just dealing with arrested development instead of having schizophrenic delusions. That he’s just a little older than the usual age to have an imaginary best friend. But regardless of what he’s going through, I think the film highlights the need to accept with compassion the troubled soul, to be kind instead of judgmental, to seek to heal rather than point fingers. This could have been a silly film, played for laughs but, while including some genuinely funny moments, it becomes more than the admittedly bizarre storyline. It ends up being a gentle, understated film about acceptance, love and simple human kindness. As one commentor says, if you go into it determined to poke holes in the illusion, then no, it won’t work for you. If you sit back and watch it for what it is, it’s almost magical.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Jill Q
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 04:30:01

    I love this movie and the townspeople, especially Mrs. Gruner, the bossy older lady who seems to take it all in a stride.
    I really think of the movie as a fairy tale, not about romantic love so much as the love of a family and a community.

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  2. Jayne
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 04:45:41

    @Jill Q: Mrs. Gruner is great. I love the scene where she scolds Lars for trying to monopolize Bianca and tells him that no self-respecting woman is going to sit at home to wait on his needs!

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  3. Anne douglas
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 05:22:12

    I loved this movie. It has this nice, slow moving pace to it that was just lovely to watch rather than action! action!! action!!!

    And while Gosling played his part wonderfully, the cast of characters around him really made the movie for me.

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  4. Jayne
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 05:26:42

    @Anne douglas: I totally agree. It’s definitely an ensemble movie and the supporting cast is fabulous.

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  5. Cara McKenna
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 05:38:34

    If anyone wants to know more about Real Dolls and the real men who love them, there’s a fabulous 45-minute documentary about the phenomenon called Guys and Dolls. A couple of the men the film follows are sympathetic like Lars, a couple not so much, but I thought it was fascinating. My heart still goes out to the unsuspecting girlfriend of one of them. I believe you can watch it for free here:
    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/guys-and-dolls/

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  6. Babs
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 06:33:29

    I was totally charmed by this movie. I was initially leery at the premise but one of my co-workers swore I had to watch it. It won over both myself and my husband who especially liked some of Gus’s reactions to the whole situation.

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  7. Jayne
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 07:06:58

    @Cara McKenna: Okay, that movie was …interesting. Donated pubic hair – who knew? And I’d advise that doll repairman to wear gloves when replacing certain body parts on those dolls. The guy who creeped me out the most was Gordon, the guy who lives alone in rural Virginia with his dolls and his guns.

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  8. Julia Rachel Barrett
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 10:13:45

    I loved this movie. The way the entire town supported Lars touched me – yes, there was a certain weird creepy factor, but that was part of the odd off-beat charm. One of my more entertaining NetFlix finds

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  9. LG
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 12:19:30

    The whole sex doll thing made me avoid this movie – I figured it’d be another “romantic comedy” filled with raunchy humor. Now I’m thinking I’ll go pick this one up. Great review!

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  10. whey
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 13:03:47

    Lovely review, for a lovely movie.

    ReplyReply

  11. RebeccaJ
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 13:08:25

    I thought the movie was going to be funny, so I was totally thrown for a loop when I realized it was more of a serious nature and he really took his “relationship” with the doll seriously, as did others.

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  12. Jayne
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 17:34:33

    @Julia Rachel Barrett: I watched it because of Netflix too and probably wouldn’t have without the repeated recommendation.

    ReplyReply

  13. Jayne
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 17:38:39

    @RebeccaJ: From the comments I read about the film, a lot of people went into it thinking it was going to be a straight comedy. I don’t remember the marketing for the film when it was released but the cover of the DVD does make it look more comedic then serious.

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  14. Jennie
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 18:11:03

    I remember reading about this movie before it came out and being totally creeped out and judgmental – I have some pretty strong opinions on guys who would rather have a “relationship” with an anatomically correct doll than a real woman. But I ended up seeing it anyway, and loved it.

    The way the town supports Lars is delightful. No, there's probably no way this would ever happen in real life but here, in the frozen north during winter, the people who know and care for Lars play their roles beautifully.

    Yes, exactly. The way the town rallied around Lars and Bianca was not realistic, but it was so, so touching. The story had almost a fairy-tale like quality in that way. Lars was weird but there was a sense that in that small community, his weirdness was accepted and not judged as it would likely be in the real world.

    I especially loved Patricia Clarkson as the doctor and Emily Mortimer as the sister-in-law. Everyone was great in their roles, really.

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  15. Cristiane
    Apr 02, 2010 @ 20:55:25

    So, Jayne – remember when I said I was going to take out the novel that the movie Kitty was based on from the UNC library when i came down to visit my folks? Well, when i got here it had been CHECKED OUT. It must be the first time in 50 years. Sigh. So now I’m going to have to go the the main NY public library (the one with the lions out front) and just sit in the reading room since it can’t be checked out. Harrumph.

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  16. Jayne
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 06:00:13

    @Cristiane: What are the odds…

    Now this has officially become A Quest. You must succeed at all costs and report back to us on whether or not the book is worth it. ;)

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  17. Jayne
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 06:03:06

    @Jennie: If you want to be creeped out, go to the link Cara provided to the documentary. It’s fascinating in a rubber-necking-at-an-accident kind of way. But one guy truly is spooky.

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  18. Bonnie Dee
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 11:10:32

    Patricia Clarkson is always stellar, as is Emily Mortimer. This is the type of quirky, character-driven movie I absolutely love. It’s almost an allegory of sorts like Edward Scissorhands. It works best if you don’t expect realism, but simply accept the fact that an entire town would support one man’s fantasy and nurture him until he was finally ready to let go of the fantasy.

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  19. Sweets
    Apr 05, 2010 @ 09:34:15

    Count me as another who was charmed by this movie. I thought it was funny, sweet and sad. I liked it so much I recommended it to my mother. Who loved it too, and recommended it to her friends.

    Sometimes, if one of us calls the other and we don’t answer to our name right away, we’ll say alright Bianca answer me. (lol) yeah. I know, I’ve got a weird family !!!!!

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  20. SArah
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 18:20:19

    This is one of my favorite movies ever! I cried like a baby at the funeral scene.

    One of my favorite scenes was when Lars is asking Gus how to be a real man, and during this entire scene, Gus is folding laundry. Such a subtle detail, but so… right with this movie.

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  21. Gerd D.
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 11:21:38

    Despite the fact that the reality of its premise, read the existance of these puppets, is a truly scary one, I absolutely love this movie.
    In my opinion it managed to pefectly hold the balance between being painfully serious at times in its depiction of a dysfunctional character and on the other being being hopelessly blue eyed and romantic about how events turn out.

    Completly love Emily Mortimers performance, which gives the movie the needed character realism to really make this story believable.

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  22. Jayne
    May 02, 2010 @ 06:38:57

    Mortimer and Clarkson are both fantastic. In fact, I think all the female actors in the film do a great job.

    ReplyReply

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