My inflatable friend
Lars and the Real Girl is a funny and humane comedy-drama, writes Michael Dwyer
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson 12A cert, Cineworld/IFI/Screen, Dublin, 106 min IT CAME as no surprise that Lars and the Real Girl was voted the most popular narrative feature among the 100-plus movies on show at last month’s Dublin festival, when it was placed third behind two Irish documentaries for the audience award. A month earlier, Nancy Oliver deservedly received an Oscar nomination in the best original screenplay category for the movie.
Oliver, formerly a writer on the seductively strange Six Feet Under series, makes an auspicious cinema debut with her truly original screenplay for Lars and the Real Girl, which is strange in different ways and proves seductive in its own right.
Set in a small US midwest town during winter, it features gifted Canadian actor Ryan Gosling (from Half Nelson) as the painfully introverted Lars Lindstrom, who is 27 and lives in a converted garage next door to his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’s pregnant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer).
Lars, whose mother died while giving birth to him, firmly resists any personal contact at the office where he works, and in particular, the amiably amorous overtures of one colleague, Margo (Kelli Garner). He is so shy that he even refuses dinner invitations from his brother and sister-in-law.
Gus and Karin are astonished when Lars announces that he finally has a girlfriend, Bianca, describing her as a half-Brazilian, half-Danish missionary who is in a wheelchair. When Lars brings her to dinner, it transpires that she is a life-size, anatomically correct, silicone doll he ordered over the internet. While the doll’s wide-open mouth signals sexual purposes, Lars is so chaste that he asks Gus and Karin to give her a room in their house.
Not surprisingly, Bianca becomes the talk of the town when Lars brings her to church. The family doctor (the redoubtable Patricia Clarkson), however, taps into the disturbed young man’s delusions and realises that the doll is there for a reason and may be the key to unlocking them. She devises an unexpectedly practical approach to Lars and Bianca, which involves integrating Bianca among the local people. Bianca even gets a part-time job as a store mannequin.
The movie’s Australian director, Craig Gillespie, skilfully orchestrates a succession of hilariously oddball scenes that had me quaking with laughter. But simultaneously, and with remarkable subtlety, the film gradually takes on a more serious tone and turns deeply affecting.
This is a film that takes several high risks: in its treatment of loneliness and mental illness in a context that is mostly humorous; in its shifting mood changes on the journey towards a resolution that is never overplayed or sentimental; and in its unfashionably benign and optimistic view of humanity and community in the modern world. Yet it succeeds in establishing and maintaining the willing suspension of disbelief in the viewer as effectively as in the fictitious townspeople it depicts.
That Lars and the Real Girl works on so many levels is attributable to its fusion of creative talents, from Oliver’s imaginative, compassionate screenplay to how director Gillespie and the film’s perfectly chosen cast (in which Gosling is terrific, again) respond to that material.
film Bedtime story: Lars (Ryan Gosling) and Bianca settle down for the night