There are few teams that will pack as much original punch this year as the team behind Lars And The Real Girl. They have produced a startlingly tender and humorous community story about one man and his life-size doll with a coming of age story thrown in for good measure. It is an outstanding debut (and Oscar-nominated) screenplay by Nancy Oliver, subtly observed by budding director Craig Gillespie and performed by a fiercely intelligent cast.
The story revolves around the socially awkward and introverted Lars Lindstrom. He lives in a small mid-western town in a garage apartment behind his childhood home where his brother, Gus, and his wife, Karin, reside. He spends his life trundling back and forth to his lack lustre job in a generic grey office until one day hearing about a thing called a “Real Doll”. After a little consideration Lars makes the decision to purchase one of these life-like, life-size adult dolls to keep him company and displace his painful social anxieties.
Lars introduces her to his family as Bianca, a lovely half-Danish, half-Brazilian girl he met on the Internet. According to Lars she is also wheelchair bound, had her luggage stolen and is a highly religious missionary who has been raised by nuns thus must sleep in the main house to preserve her modesty.
Ryan Gosling is totally consistent and contained within his character. His nervous licking of his lips, distracted eyes and leaving his fly half open builds a performance worked out from soft, small details that speak in volumes without playing for laughs or sympathy. Emily Mortimer is a gem of maternal and moral engagement. She sways between dragging Lars to the ground to invite him to dinner to vehemently exposing home truths to him in order to bring him closer and into their lives. Schneider provides the standard for mixing machismo with fraternal responsibility. But Patricia Clarkson’s dry humour is like an elixir amongst the already wonderful performances.
However, when things do escalate the universal acceptance and good-will the town wears on its sleeve is almost absurd. Bianca wins a place on the school board, helps in children’s reading groups, volunteers at the hospital and is most popular at the town fashion stores. But Lars’ growth overshadows those curiousities. He begins to understand the answer to his own question “how do you know youre a man?” He begins to learn how to respond and react to his own emotions. Despite being involved with Bianca, Lars becomes jealous of new workmates Margo’s love affair. Her infantile quirkiness represents the extroverted, pure and loving female reflection of Lars and that something will bloom between them is deliciously inevitable.
Yes, it may be hard for a stone cold cynic to swallow the pill that will make his heart warm but warm his heart it will. This is a simple and unsentimental, idiosyncratic fairytale, go and see it.