Friday Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Genre: Comedy/Framily Drama
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.
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.