Monday, May 26, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

May 26, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) ***

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Going into Lars and the Real Girl, I was intrigued by the premise and also by the general positive response audiences have had to this film. It’s about a sex doll who works as a “missionary” (he he he), and yet it has been described as an off-beat Frank Capra fable. Sex doll and Frank Capra are two things I never expected to see in the same sentence. The Real Girl, which is the general name of mix and match sex dolls available over the internet, teaches us how important it is to open ourselves up to the people around us. That’s a sweet message, and I did feel moved by the end. My problem with the film is that I believe it expects the viewer to care about Bianca the Real Girl sex doll in a similar way as the people in Lars’ life believe in her. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that it was an inanimate object even as the townspeople in the film began committing to the notion that she is important because she is important to Lars.

Ryan Gosling gives an effective if not mannered performance as Lars, a deeply shy and seemingly depressed young man living in the garage of the home that was left in a will to both he and his brother Gus (Paul Schneider). Gus’ wife Karin (Emily Mortimer), newly pregnant, makes a strong effort to invite Lars more into their life and hopefully to break him out of his rut. At work, Lars shares a cubicle with a crude porn addict who tells him about this website where you can custom make a sex doll called a Real Girl. Six weeks later, we see a package delivered to Lars which is, yep, his own Real Girl named Bianca. While Lars has been petrified to go over to his brother’s house before, this time he confidently and excitedly knocks on their door to introduce them to his new girlfriend whom he met on the internet. Before they meet Bianca, Gus and Karin are thrilled because maybe this is just what Lars needs. They offer to let her sleep in their house.

Cut to one of the more awkward first conversations in film history when we see the doll for the first time. Lars is grinning, saying that she is shy, but he whispers to her and apparently hears her talking back to him. Gus and Karin are understandably freaked out and believe that Lars is insane. They decide to bring Lars (and Bianca) to the town physician/psychologist named Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson). Dagmar diagnoses Bianca with an illness which involves weekly treatments followed by a rest for an hour during which she will counsel Lars without him realizing the plan. She assures Gus and Karin that Lars is simply having a delusion and is no danger to himself or others. Her advice—go along with it.

We get a few funny scenes involving the townspeople reacting to Bianca for the first time. A laugh out loud hilarious sequence shows Bianca at church holding a hymnal. There are just about no laughs at all once everyone gets used to and accepts Bianca, since the film now turns poignant and saccharine. Tragedy strikes Bianca and Lars must begin the process of letting go. Has his delusion of Bianca helped him to realize the goodness of people, and will his relationship with her open up the possibility of Lars finding a real girl rather than a “Real Girl”?

With the exception of the inclusion of a sex doll (whom Lars presumably never actually engages in sex with), this film is all too familiar as a feel good, inspirational story of the frailty of a person won over by the love of the people around him. The movie is well-written and simple, which is refreshing. Though I didn’t laugh too often, it could easily have gone in a crude direction in order to get cheap laughs. Still, I began creeped out by Bianca and also by Lars whenever he appears on screen with it or her or whatever! By the end, I wasn’t as uncomfortable with Bianca or Lars, but I wasn’t choked up or in tears. Actually, I felt a sense of relief that Lars’ demented delusion was finally over. Unfortunately, just when I was getting comfortable with Lars again, the film ends.

Lars and the Real Girl is a good movie with an interesting premise that I think dug holes for itself that it couldn’t quite climb out of. If you cry at the end over the sex doll’s tragedy, then in one sense I’m happy for you because the movie worked on your emotions. On the other hand, you did cry over the loss of a sex doll.