Gosling Is Dazzling

Running Time 106 minutes
Written BY Nancy Oliver
Directed by Craig Gillepsie
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider

In shakier hands, Lars and the Real Girl, a quirky little 15-minute short about a slow-witted man who falls in love with an anatomically correct blow-up sex doll, stretched to 106 minutes to sell more popcorn, might be both pretentious and unbearable. But with the superb and always surprising Ryan Gosling in the center ring, the time passes gently and satisfyingly.

Freshly observed by Australian director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver, this is the offbeat story of Lars, a sweet-natured but emotionally crippled man in his late 20’s who, after his parents die, shares the inheritance of his family’s home with his older brother Gus (the equally riveting Paul Schneider, who steals a big chunk of Brad Pitt’s Jesse James movie). Lars is a lost soul so convinced nobody loves him that he lives an isolated existence in the garage behind the main house, a source of constant worry for both Gus and his concerned, pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), who ply him with warm blankets and hot dinner invitations which he usually declines. One day a curious truck arrives, depositing a big box containing a mail-order sex toy Lars passes off as a half-Brazilian, half-Danish missionary in fishnet stockings named Bianca. The whimsy takes some getting used to, and for a brief stint the preposterous plot threatens to overwhelm the potential charm. Mortified, Gus hauls his obviously stunted brother to a loopy psychiatrist named Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), who surprises the family by suggesting they go along with the delusion. Next stop, the church, where all they get from their Lutheran minister is “What would Jesus do?” Level-headed and appalled by the whole thing, Gus wants his brother institutionalized, but human nature being predictably unpredictable (especially in the movies) Lars’ friends and neighbors come to accept Bianca as a welcome member of the community. Before you can say, “Huh?”, they’re pushing her around in a wheelchair, volunteering her for hospital work, taking her bowling and starting her on a modeling career. Although Bianca doesn’t say a word in the film, she becomes a beloved citizen in the town. Alas, the time eventually comes when Bianca must die so Lars can get on with real life, and at the funeral, everyone agrees—Bianca touched their lives in ways they could never have imagined. It has a kind of cockeyed magic. I couldn’t help but think of Harold and Maude.

While I can’t predict how audiences will take the high-concept Lars and the Real Girl, I can tell you it never runs out of steam. I didn’t really laugh much. What I felt was more like a chuckle of disbelief. But Mr. Gosling is so convincing and sincere that I came to love Bianca as a real girl just as the townsfolk did. Much of this is due to the persuasive performances by the four leads. Ms. Mortimer provides the heart of human understanding, Mr. Schneider is the voice of reason, Ms. Clarkson is firmly rooted in the possibility of love in all shapes and forms, and Mr. Gosling maintains the film’s emotional pulse. Is Lars and the Real Girl a plea for world tolerance of inanimate objects, a cry to embrace love wherever it can be found, or just a surreal New Wave comedy with an attack of the cutes? I don’t know, but I found the ending a sad and powerful comment on love, death, abandonment, the definition of manhood and the endlessly psychotic American way of replacing old issues with new issues that are ten times worse. It is one weird flick, and a real winner.