Lars and the Real Girl
|Patricia Clarkson||Dr. Dagmar|
|Directed by||Craig Gillespie|
Lars (Ryan Gosling) lives in an apartment in the garage of the house where he grew up, in a little village somewhere in the frozen reaches of the northern Midwest. His older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) lives in the main house with his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer). They try to draw Lars into social contact, but he resists, and Karin has to literally tackle him to get him to come to Sunday dinner.
Lars has abandonment issues. His mother died in childbirth, his father raised the boys but was cold and distant, Gus left home as soon as he could. Lars is, well, a little strange. He’s painfully shy and withdrawn, almost to catatonia. He has a phobia about physical contact; a hug for him is not a comfort but a painful, burning sensation. We’re not sure how long he’s been like this, but it seems to be more pronounced since his sister-in-law has become pregnant.
And then a girl comes into his life, and Lars opens up like a geranium in time-lapse photography. Her name is Bianca. He met her on the internet. She’s a missionary, Brazilian of Danish extraction, raised by nuns, and here on sabbatical to “experience the world.” She is confined to a wheelchair. She speaks no English. She arrives in a crate.
Bianca, you see, is no ordinary wheelchair-bound Brazilian missionary. She is a plastic doll, anatomically correct, ordered from a build-your-own-sex-toy website discovered by the co-worker with whom Lars shares a cubicle.
But lest her provenance and construction mislead you into expecting anything smutty, let it be understood from the outset that Bianca is not that kind of a girl. Nor is Lars that kind of a boy. Never was a young woman treated with more respect, never were a young man’s intentions more honorable, never was a relationship with a sex toy more chaste. Lars doesn’t even expect Bianca to stay with him in the garage apartment, he moves her into the guest room in the main house.
Gus and Karin are understandably concerned. They take Lars and Bianca for professional help. Dagmar (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson) is the local GP, with a providential background in psychology. Dagmar counsels the worried family to play along. “Bianca is in town for a reason,” the doctor gently explains, and she will remain until he doesn’t need her anymore.
Some of the townsfolk require a little convincing, but they all come around, and accept Bianca. Truth be told, there’s more than a little eccentricity dusted around this remote Scandinavian community, and other citizens have props of their own. The office mate who discovered the Real Doll website is passionately devoted to action figures, and another co-worker, Margo (Kelli Garner) is attached to her teddy bear. Margo is the potential love interest for Lars, a real live girl (and, one assumes, fully anatomically correct,) but like the rest of the townsfolk she is patient and understanding with Lars’s delusion, and willing to play a supporting role until Bianca’s scene is through.
The screenplay for this offbeat love story comes from the brain of Nancy Oliver, a writer and producer for the HBO series Six Feet Under. In this, her first feature film, she has created a fantasy world that commits fully to a spirit of gentleness and understanding. You would be hard-pressed to find a community in real life where this level of tolerance would be universally maintained, but this isn’t real life any more (or less) than Bianca is a real girl.
Craig Gillespie, a successful director of commercials who is segueing into features, has done a sensitive job of capturing the mood and avoiding the pitfalls. It would be an easy thing to snigger at, but despite a little initial gossip among the locals (“Is he having sex with her?” “Well, that’s what she’s for!”), what makes this movie work so well and capture us on such an emotional level is the respect it has for its premise. Because ultimately this is a story about how and why we love. We project things we respond to onto the people we love, and are charmed to find them reflected there. In one of the movie’s key scenes Karin confronts Lars with the truth that the town’s acceptance of Bianca comes from their love for him.
Gosling, the young Canadian actor who captured a surprise Oscar nomination last year for Half Nelson, plays Lars and his emotional confusion with a serenity which conveys the humor of the piece without elbowing it in the ribs. He’s supported by a wonderful cast of distinctive, cleanly drawn characters. And Clarkson’s portrayal of the wise and perceptive doctor adds a richness and a balance that ought to earn her a second look when the Academy starts shortening its list of Supporting Actress nominations.
Lars and the Real Girl is a comedy, and a very funny one, but it plays on our heartstrings as well. As we join the townspeople in a willing suspension of disbelief over Bianca, we’re surprised to find that it’s possible to feel a real emotional attachment to an anatomically correct girl made of quality plastic.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be