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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review of Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl

This review originally appeared in Venus Zine.

Getting real

Ryan Gosling finds a lady friend in Lars and the Real Girl

Just as the film Lars and the Real Girl was set to be released, a British documentary premiered this year. Love Me, Love My Doll chronicled the relationships that several men have had with their Real Dolls, an 21st century upgrade of the blow-up dolls of the past. The documentary starkly presents these men as lonely, socially awkward, sad people going into great detail about their "girlfriends" and all the relationship troubles they've faced, which would seem more genuine if the girlfriend wasn't made of plastic and rubber. It could be argued that the men preferred the dolls to real women because of their being sexually attractive yet not speaking or arguing with them.

Lars and the Real Girl dramatizes a typical life of one of these men. Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is a reserved individual living in the garage of his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider). Gus' wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) tries to engage him in going out on excursions with them, having dinner with them, and trying to draw him out of his shell. His co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner) is interested in him, but he is merely polite to her. Lars seems like a giant man-child at 27, possibly autistic and sensitive to touch. It seems like there isn't any point to socialize Lars into the world, that he is content to live alone in his garage home and pay no mind to anybody.

Several weeks later, Lars introduces his girlfriend, Bianca, to Gus and Karin. Bianca is a Real Doll, resembling Angelina Jolie. Lars gives Bianca an entire backstory (she is a Brazilian wheelchair-bound woman who wants to work as a missionary). Though it seems like Lars has completely lost his mind, his devotion to Bianca as a real person (Karin even unconsciously sets a dinner plate for Bianca upon first meeting her) touches the rest of the town, and Bianca is accepted as a new member of the community, being spoken to and cared for as if she were real. Lars' relationship with her, where he is the only one who can hear her responses, brings up comparisons to Harvey, where Jimmy Stewart joyfully speaks to an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit and his family fears him being mentally ill. The psychologist (Patricia Clarkson), tries to give therapy sessions to Lars under the guise that she is "treating" Bianca, but he keeps his emotions locked up as to whether he believes that Bianca is real or that he knows that she's just a doll.

Lars is idealistic and a bit of a fantasy, but it is an interesting movie to see how a whole town will rally around one of their own and accept somebody's odd behavior - even learning something new about themselves along the way. The audience even starts to believe in Bianca's presence as much as the townspeople do, thanks to the convincing acting, led by Ryan Gosling's childlike performance, and the compelling script, written by Nancy Oliver.

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