Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Lars & The Real Girl - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter: Nancy Oliver
Running Time: 106 mins
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: Out now

Lars and the Real Girl is not a comedy. Sure, Lars is played by former “Young Hercules” pin-up boy Ryan Gosling, and it’s about his relationship with a life-sized sex doll. Primed for hilarity, right? Wrong.

Lars Lindstrom lives in the garage apartment next door to his childhood home, a relatively large Midwestern house which is occupied by his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and expectant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer). Lars works in an office, the bland kind, full of people in there late twenties who have given up on their dreams and have lazily embraced mediocrity. The winters are bleak, and Lars, with his nervous ticks, sandy moustache and sad eyes, has the feeling of a melancholy lumberjack teetering on the edge.

Harbouring an immeasurably deep sadness, Lars, unable to cope with human relationships, falls into a seriously delusional relationship with a mail-order love doll named Bianca. Proudly bringing Bianca to dinner next door, he explains her back story – she’s Brazilian and Danish, wheelchair bound, and lost both parents when she was just a baby. After consulting a doctor (Patricia Clarkson), Gus and Karin are encouraged to go support Lars’ relationship with Bianca, and soon the entire community joins in on the support – bringing Bianca out to get a makeover, go to church, and “read” to children. Emily Mortimer is in top form, her American accent convincing and her appeal genuine. The barely recognizable Ryan Gosling follows up his Oscar nominated turn in Half Nelson with a sparkling performance of a mentally ill man. The young Canadian’s ability to cross over from mainstream to indie is something special, and one can hope that he continues to engage with challenging screenplays and explore his darker depths.

As for the story itself, it’s all hugely implausible, but Nancy Oliver’s Oscar-nominated screenplay exhibits respect and optimism for love, family, and community cooperation. Having been a writer and co-producer on the critically acclaimed TV series Six Feet Under, Oliver is exceptionally strong in examining such complexities as loss and grieving, which ultimately are the larger issues at stake in Lars and the Real Girl. Like Six Feet Under, Lars asks the audience to accept this peculiar reality as a vehicle to delve into serious territory. It is a fresh approach, and you’re just as likely to laugh as you are to choke up with emotion, should you choose to go along for the ride.

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