LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
In LARS AND THE REAL GIRL shy, unassuming Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) creates quite a stir around his Wisconsin town when he introduces his new girlfriend to family, friends, and co-workers. The wheelchair-bound Bianca had been doing work for the church in Brazil when she and Lars met online. Folks are happy that Lars has found someone, at least until they learn that Bianca is a life-size sex doll--or a real doll, as the film refers to her.
By all appearances, Lars isn't pulling an elaborate joke. He dotes on Bianca, acting as though she is a living, breathing human being and insisting that everyone else do likewise. Naturally this distresses his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) a great deal. How do they explain the rubber gal accompanying Lars to their fellow congregants on Sundays?
A trip to Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), the local doctor, doesn't produce the quick remedy that Gus wants for his brother. She encourages indulging Lars' fantasy. In her opinion, when he is ready to let go of it, he will. Before long the community has accepted Bianca as though she is flesh and blood. Her calendar is so thoroughly booked that Lars begins to get upset at not having enough time to see her.
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL isn't as outrageous as it sounds in concept. Actually, it's a sweet and funny film invested with midwestern values. Family ties and community obligation to one of their own anchor the movie. It's touching how everyone rallies around Lars even if they think what he's doing is weird.
Gosling's career is built on eccentric characters, like the Jewish neo-Nazi in THE BELIEVER and inspirational, cocaine-addicted teacher in HALF NELSON. Although Lars follows in that offbeat tradition, he is a decidedly less flashy role because the character is so bottled up. This is a performance of enormous control. Gosling regulates Lars' growth like a slow tire leak. The strength of his acting is found in how he makes a person of limited expression open up in tiny increments until he is a transformed man.
There's also a lot to be said for how Gosling, the other actors, and director Craig Gillespie are able to pull off the film's conceit convincingly. For all the silliness of its premise, it is counterbalanced with substantial exploration of loneliness, introversion and grief. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL could have felt overly precious, like a cheap stunt or joke, but the emotional depth and warmth make this quirky regional character study anything but plastic.