Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DJG's CINEMADHESIVE / Lars & The Real Girl

Lars & The Real Girl * * * * 1/2

Within the first five minutes of “Lars & The Real Girl”, the sweet, sensitive and awkward Lars (brilliantly portrayed with depth by Ryan Gosling) is listening to a Sunday morning church sermon on how LOVE is and should be the only law. Somewhere down his 27-year-old life line, Lars lost something inside of him and his outward behavior is starting to worry those around him as they interact in his daily hermit-like routine of aloneness, awkwardness and non-touchy shyness. Though, he is able to hold down normalcy in driving a car and working an office job, there is obviously something wrong and it’s been building for a long while. But, he doesn’t see anything wrong with wanting to be alone and to himself (and I personally agree), as he resides in a small garage behind the house he co-owns with his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law, Karen (Emily Mortimer). Their mother died during Lars’ childbirth and their father past away recently, carrying 20-some years of grief, loss and lonely from a broken heart and hardship.

Many weeks pass as Lars’ peculiar actions peak when he orders a life-sized doll (or, uh…pleasure doll) and has a mental delusion that she is real and his girlfriend…a half-Brazilian-half-Danish-missionary-raised bombshell named Bianca. This deeply disturbs Lars’ brother and sister-in-law, but they play along awkwardly, housing and taking care of Bianca. They promptly seek counsel with the family medical doctor (Patricia Clarkson) as Lars and Bianca schedule weekly appointments. The entire small mid-west town is deeply confused by Lars and his real love for a plastic doll, yet they too begin to play along and just try to do what is right for Lars because they want him to get better. After a short period, Bianca is treated like a normal member of society and volunteers her time at the mall and hospital and is even elected to the school board. All the while Lars is learning to feel something real and truly find himself through the compassion, love and faith from those around him and their imagination-turn-real-love for Bianca’s extra-ordinary existence. Halfway through the movie you become so engulfed in the wave of imagination that you too end up having true feelings for Bianca as a real human being.

“Lars & The Real Girl” is a very unique, strange and heartwarming experience and one that is so fragile that I have no idea how it was executed so smoothly. Honestly, it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Craig Gillespie delivers a subtle, well-paced near-perfect direction of an Oscar-nominated original screenplay by Nancy Oliver (very-very impressive first feature for both of them) and Ryan Gosling delivered what I feel deserved his second Oscar nomination as the loveable and believable Lars. Gosling is emerging as one of the brightest, well-rounded talents of actors in their 20s. He’s tackling some very challenging, dark and exciting roles.

In reality, a man in love with a doll probably wouldn’t work in our daily lives and routine, and actually, it’s quite a miracle that it works on screen. In real life Lars and his condition would not be as supported by such a vast community and he would be the constant subject of much tease and snickering for his oddball behavior. Seldom does this happen in the film and it gives some hope for mankind, equality and the treatment of others. Only once is Lars told to his face that what he is doing is absurd and that Bianca isn’t real. And Lars kindly responds with the touching statement, “God made Bianca to help people.” Also, the film never digs into cliché, emotional manipulation or typical trappings of stupid or gross-out “sex” comedy. It’s played very maturely, sweetly and sensitively. It’s not very believable in some light, but there is something so real about this fairy tale-like story that we can all learn and teach others from…love and compassion. Another thing is that faith is sometimes best served when it's approached within a childlike frame, and "Lars & The Real Girl" presents this on a wide screen.

After Bianca’s first church service visit with her new family she is awkwardly presented with many stares, along with a bouquet of plastic flowers. Lars whispers something into her ear with much confidence, excitement and assurance that really floors me. He says, “These flowers are not real you know, so they can last forever. Isn’t that neat?” That line not only digs deep into Lars’ character and psyche, but also sums up my love for movies as an art form. True, movies can be great escapism and immediate art, though it’s wonderful when a film can resonate with honestly and heart through other lenses (like love and faith) and speak volumes beyond just the entertainment factor. I watched “Lars & The Real Girl” two times in the last twelve hours and it left me with wet eyes and a great feeling tugging at my heart as the credits rolled both times. See this movie. It’s a darling tender gem and comes through as very heartfelt and hopeful…and very REAL.


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