In an offbeat and touching story Lars and the Real Girl written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie examines the humanness of families, communities and people who essentially put aside rational behavior to help a loved one in serious crisis.
At first the story seems preposterous and there is a sense that it might disappoint. However, in the hands of a gifted cast led by Ryan Gosling as Lars Lindstrom, Emily Mortimer as his newly pregnant sister-in-law Karen, Paul Schneider as his older brother Gus , and Particia Clarkson as Dagmar the doctor in a brilliantly nuanced performance, the story unfolds with great delicacy and compassion rarely seen in films that are not purely independent.
Lars is an emotionally and socially crippled man-child in self imposed exile surrounded by a community that has great compassion for him, although he is not aware of it. His sister-in-law sees his isolating behaviour getting worse and tries very aggressively to persuade Lars to interact with her and her husband and be more a part of the family. Her endearing and pushy manner confounds and disturbs Lars, for she will not take no for an answer and in one scene physically tackles him in order to get him to come to dinner. His relationship with his brother (Gus) is rather strained and it is clear that Gus is uncomfortable with many aspects of Lar’s life and behavior and would rather leave it as is than face it in any real way. The interactions at the dinner Karen forces Lars to attend are awkward and painful for all involved. This scene also subtlety first hints at Lar’s condition as we learn that their mother died giving birth to Lars.
The director fleshes out Lars character in the first act by showing him in various social situations. We learn that Lars holds a job, and dutifully attends church. His interactions with people in these settings are often painful to watch. Lars has no real social skills and his reactions to people prove extremely painful. Gosling plays Lars with pained honesty often verging on tears due to his immense discomfort around people. His behavior which is erratic and eccentric is uncomfortable to watch, while at the same time comes from a place he clearly cannot control. Yet, the community that has known him since birth allows him to be who he is and is beyond supportive.
In the second act Lars orders an anatomically correct life sized doll from the Internet and proceeds to introduce her first to his family as his girlfriend Bianca. The initial introduction at dinner, is hilarious as we see Gus and Karen react to Bianca. They are both dumbfounded and greatly concerned that Lars has truly lost it as he talks to the doll and creates a back-story for her. Gus reacts with a combination of embarrasment and disgust but is persuaded to remain calm by his equally shocked wife. Lars however is in great spirits and is undeterred by any negativity on the part of Gus, who now thinks his brother should be institutionalized because he must be truly ill to be acting in such a bizarre manor. Even stranger, Lars asks Karen and Gus to allow Bianca to stay in the main house, since he resides in the garage, because they are both religious and Lars feels it would be inappropriate for them to stay together. While Gus and Karen allow Bianca to stay, they persuade Lars to have Bianca taken for a physical with Dagmar who is both a GP and a psychologist where they hope to get some answers as to Lars’ state of mind.
Once the doctor “examines” Bianca and watches Lars interact with her, she suggests that he bring her in weekly for “treatment” while she attempts to understand what is happening to him. She also recommends that Gus and Karen go along with Lars delusion as she diagnosis it. Gus is at first adamantly against this tactic, out of sheer embarrassment, but is convinced to go along by Karen who does not see any other way. Dagmar is acutely aware that this makes Gus extremely uncomfortable and does not attempt to sugar coat it for him. They then approach the various members of the community and church asking them to go along with the delusion for the sake of Lars obvious need to have Bianca there.
This story is about Lars, so deeply wounded that he must reconstruct himself and heal through the delusion that Bianca is real. Gosling gives Lars immense vulnerability creating a heart wrenching character with complete honesty and an intense need to survive. He creates a back-story for his girlfriend with such detail that the community becomes as involved with his creation as he is. As if they all needed this imaginary friend to learn about themselves.
Patricia Clarkson is always a treat and her portrayal as the doctor who is seemingly treating Lars girlfriend while in actuality she gets to learn why and how Lars has come to need the delusion. It is a testament that Gosling creates a character who is so well loved and accepted by his community as to have them all collude with his delusion. Soon Bianca is embraced in to the community as Lars recreates a healthy relationship. It becomes clear that this delusional episode is triggered by Karen’s pregnancy and Lars obvious fears and guilt that associate with it. He is a man who suffers from the effects of being born without a mother. His major issue, being touched and the pain that causes him is a common side effect of being born with no bonding with a mother figure. The trigger of the pregnancy and his fears that Karen might die like his mother drive his need to have Bianca, a surrogate perhaps to work through his lifelong struggle with social adjustment and perceived closeness.
The film succeeds on many levels by first allowing the audience to suspend disbelief. This can only be successful if the acting is both genuine and convincing. This is a triumph for the stars because it would otherwise remain a joke rather than the healing process Lars needs to open himself up to the world. It is the remarkable story, acting and directing that culminate in this films beautiful message of love and unconditional understanding.
Ryan Gosling is a risk taker and that is why he is lauded as one of the most talented and gifted actors working today. Watching him portray Lars is equally painful and triumphant. He brings you to tears while giving you hope. The cast is equally convincing and make Lars and the Real Girl a truly moving and redemptive tale that will have you smiling, crying and rejoicing to the goodness of humanity. Quirky and unashamed this film is a must see for those who want more than explosives and high action, but rather prefer to watch humans being human with all the flaws and pain that goes with the territory. A truly remarkable film.
Copyright ©2008 Veronica Romm