The caption on the cover of this movie sums it up best: “A whimsical, funny, moving film”. That’s exactly what it is. My wife, bless her heart, is always bringing home movies, books, and music that would slip by me. That’s one of the greatest things about being married to a teacher. She’s exposed to all those kids each year and knows what they’re reading, what they’re watching, and what they’re listening to. I’m not certain that all the kids are watching this movie, but she heard about it nonetheless. It’s a funny thing about this movie too, if you weren’t paying attention to it, you probably never would have noticed it. It was touching enough that I’m compelled to throw in my two cents on it.
Whenever you’re about to watch a movie you know nothing about, you embark on a risk of wasting a couple precious hours of your life. When you’re a busy parent, that’s a big risk to take. When that risk pays off, it feels just a little bit better than normal. It’s like when you’re kid and you reach into that bowl full of lollipops with your eyes closed with the mindset that you’re going to take whatever you get no matter what; and lo and behold you pull out a good one. If you like the same kind of candy I do, you’re going to like Lars and the Real Girl.
The movie begins set in a cold snowy country town. Lars (Ryan Gosling) is living in the garage in a studio-style living space. Out his window is his sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) standing on the porch of a grand old house. She’s trying to get his attention and he skulks back out of sight. She comes to his door insistent on getting his attention. He contemplates answering the door with great hesitation but finally does. She invites him in for breakfast and he tries to evade the invite in every possible way. And while this type of character introduction makes you work a little harder to understand who your characters are, you always appreciate it in retrospect. I think the writer, Nancy Oliver, did a wonderful job here with character introductions of giving you just enough of what you needed to know so that by movie’s end you were glad you weren’t smothered with spoon fed narration. Nancy Oliver has written for Six Feet Under and True Blood. She hails from Framingham Massachusetts which I remember as the town my parents would always stop in when we’d travel to Boston to see my brother who lived there. Framingham is a nice little stop that provided us comfortable lodging and dining before we got into the big bustling city of Boston.
Right away with this movie, you have to get on board with the “whimsical” part of the description used above. As we come to know Lars, we soon find that he’s got some major psychological problems but he’s a functioning and endearing member of society. And, the quaint town in which he resides, is about the only place in the world that could incubate this story. In the vein of Stephen King, you can see this kind of writing style is one that if you get on board with it, you’re really going to like it; which is what happened to me. I suppose if you started this movie in the wrong frame of mind it could lose favor with you. I also suppose that this movie is going to be for a more select audience and is definitely not mainstream.
We soon realize that Lars’ underlying psychological problem is that he’s averse to contact with other people. As character introductions ensue, we find well meaning characters inquiring about and pressuring Lars about his single status and wondering why he’s such a loner. At about this time the co-worker he sits next to shows him a website where you can order a life-like sex doll that’s 100% anatomically correct. Lars seems unmoved, but this scene is pivotal to the movie’s plot. Shortly after, a delivery truck is showing up to Lars’ place with one of these mannequins. It is at this point that many people are going to have a distaste for the corniness of what’s about to happen next: Lars introduces this mannequin he has named Bianca to his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his sister-in-law Karin as a real person. The extent of Lars’ psychological problems becomes evident at this watershed moment in the movie’s storyline. If you’re not turned off by this corny scene, and you don’t turn off your DVD player, and you let your guard down to just roll with it, you will find yourself rewarded in the end.
Gus and Karin realize the gravity of Lars’ problem at this point and trick him into seeing the town doctor, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), who also happens to be a psychologist. At Dagmar’s suggestion, Gus and Karin, with great hesitation, agree to treat Bianca as a real person and humor Lars’ delusion in hopes of figuring out the source of his problems. While it’s hard for them to do, they agree to do so in order to help Lars while he gets some psychological help from Dagmar.
This is where the heart warming part of the story starts to take flight. One by one, like dominos, the rest of town acknowledges Bianca as a real person and gets on board with helping Lars through this episode in his life.
From this point, without giving everything away, the story of Lars’ psychological analysis unfolds. The story of how the town deals with Lars unfolds as well. Another story line starts to develop at this point also: Margo (Kelli Garner) is attracted to Lars despite his mental problems. As Lars continues to get help, a little love story of sorts takes place between he and Margo. Once again, Nancy Oliver does a great job here: she gives you just enough of the story to let you extraplolate where Margo and Lars are headed in the future.
In the end what we’re left with is a heart warming story of how a town can be brought together by the most bizarre of circumstances. This story’s corny medicine of a make-believe psychological problem helps to break through some of those barriers that keep most of us in our silos and brings together a whole, albeit small, society of people. While it’s entirely plausible that you might turn off this movie because you just don’t want to buy into it, for those of us that are willing to watch, it’s a rewarding and heart warming story that reminds us that we’re all in this together. And while it’s much easier for us to turn our backs, we’re all better off working together despite our differences rather than throwing stones at others for being different than us.
Three out of four stars.
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