The Good: Engaging plot, Decent characters, Good acting
The Bad: Not entirely original, Pacing
The Basics: Ryan Gosling illustrates his acting chops early in Lars And The Real Girl where he plays an awkward man in love with a life-sized doll.
It is a rare thing that my wife and I agree upon a movie’s quality. Yet, as soon as we finished Lars And The Real Girl we turned to one another and began talking about the film. We discussed what the movie meant and how it we thought the performers in it performed. She asked me what I would rate the film and I was pretty surprised when we both thought it came out at a seven out of ten. That seldom happens.
For my part, I was impressed to see Ryan Gosling in one of the earliest roles. I was a little disappointed that Lars And The Real Girl resembled the feeling and some of the character aspects/performance quirks of Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!). Ryan Gosling is exceptional as Lars and he shows a range that I had not seen from him before. Even so, there are a number of aspects of Gosling’s performance that were incredibly similar to Adam Sandler’s performance in Punch-Drunk Love.
In a small Wisconsin town, Lars Lindstrom lives in the garage of his dead father’s house while his older brother, Gus, and Gus’s wife Karin live in the main house. Karin pressures Lars to join the pair for dinner, even tackling him to insist that he come into the house to eat with them. Karin and Gus want to share the good news with the exceptionally awkward Lars that Karin is pregnant. Already unsettled at work by Margo, who works several cubicles away, Gus begins to stress and feel some serious and complex emotions. His cubiclemate shows him a website with made-to-order lifelike sex dolls (which Lars does not quite understand). Lars orders Bianca, a missionary from overseas and he introduces her to his family.
Fearing he has gone crazy, Gus insists Lars go to Dr. Dagmar. While Karin thinks Lars is all right, Gus worries that Lars might actually be mentally ill and need to be institutionalized. Dagmar convinces Lars to bring Bianca in weekly and when he does, Dagmar “treats” her for a condition that requires them to sit together. Dagmar discovers that Lars still feels guilty about the death of his mother (she died giving birth to him) and he has incredible fears about Karin’s pregnancy. Soon, though, the people sympathetic to Lars come out of the woodwork and they embrace Bianca. Bianca has a social network (she gets a job as a store mannequin), people who want to be around her, and people who take her off Lars’ hands, freeing him up for human interactions (like with Margo). As he becomes more socialized, Bianca’s health takes a turn for the worse and the entire community is affected.
Lars And The Real Girl is a masterwork of awkward humor, but the power of the film is that Lars And The Real Girl is not depressing or oppressive in its tone. While the plot is somewhat predictable, Lars And The Real Girl does not feel like it is beating the viewer down. Perhaps this is because Lars And The Real Girl features a protagonist who is awkward and lost in the world, but the world does not beat him down. Unlike Punch-Drunk Love, Lars is not consistently betrayed by those around him to create his social awkwardness.
Instead, Lars is a man feeling guilty and fearing abandonment because his life has been a long pageant of abandonments and when his brother returned home following their father’s death, Lars moved into the garage. His fear is understandable in that he has never resolved his feelings that he missed out on having a mother. He is lost and his story is one that resonates on a deeply human level because Ryan Gosling is able to perfectly emote a deep level of sadness even when he says nothing.
The character magic in Lars And The Real Girl comes from the townspeople around Lars. Their acceptance of Bianca and willingness to help Lars by working hard to not shatter his delusion makes potentially awkward events like Lars bringing Bianca to a company party into a memorably heartwarming scene. The way Bianca becomes a person in their minds – someone with whm they want to spend time and would elect to the school board – brings an uncommon charm to Lars And The Real Girl.
The supporting performances in Lars And The Real Girl are generally good as well. While Gosling bears the brunt of having to perform opposite an inanimate object, many of the others have to work with Bianca for a scene or two and they all pull those scenes off just fine, making the viewer believe that their characters are making an effort to treat the life-size doll as an actual person. But the acting is far from homogenously great. Emily Mortimer’s accent changes constantly in Lars And The Real Girl, which is irksome in general and downright disturbing at times.
But more than that, director Craig Gillespie does not the best possible work from Kelli Garner. A key scene in Lars’ development has him bowling with Garner’s Margo. Clearly part of the purpose – thematically – of the bowling scene is to illustrate how alive, vibrant, and mobile Margo is to Lars. And yet, watching the scene, the way Garner is constantly in motion, wiggling all the time, made it seem like Gillespie was right off screen yelling, “More Kelli! More! I don’t want anyone who sees this to miss what we’re doing here!” Outside that, Garner plays Margo with clearly restrained attraction for Gosling’s Lars and she performs the role well.
Lars And The Real Girl is a tour de force for Ryan Gosling and anyone who thinks he has only gotten so far in his career due to his good looks should watch the movie. Bloated and with his shirt on all the time (usually in some pretty hideous sweaters), Gosling is the emotional heartthrob, not the physical one. While it might not be perfect, it is not the stereotypical psychologically horrifying work most independent films become, which makes Lars And The Real Girl a must-watch movie for its originality, memorable characters, compelling character struggles and most of the performances.
For other works with Ryan Gosling, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Idea Of March
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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