Released 2007. Director: Craig Gillespie
WHEN WE FIRST MEET LARS, HE'S PEERING OUT of the converted garage he calls home, next to the house where his brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin live. An extreme introvert in his 20s, Lars is uncomfortable with conversations or interactions. Forget about handshakes, let alone a friendly hug. Lars even makes lame excuses to avoid having dinner with his family. So you can imagine the surprise when Lars invites himself over one day with a friend. Guess who’s coming to dinner.
Lars introduces his girlfriend as Bianca, a paraplegic missionary. To Gus and Karin, however, Bianca is a life-size doll ordered from some adult website. If Lars really sees Bianca as a real person, he needs help.
Written by Nancy Oliver with great sensitivity and directed by Craig Gillespie with humour and pathos, Lars and the Real Girl is a surprising little movie with charm, and strangely moving. It takes us one gingerly step after another into the quiet personal world of Lars. He may be delusional and terrible at small talks, but Lars has sincerity and kindness. You can see it in Ryan Gosling’s eyes, in a committed performance so nuanced you hardly notice the gradual change in Lars’s personality as he inches out of his shell one millimetre at a time.
Many things could have gone so wrong with a movie like this, but nothing has. There’s the danger of collapsing into an unintentional heap of bad comedy about a grown man and his doll. Performances that could have come off as a sad and sorry farce. Or simply a cheap comedy with a string of tasteless jokes. Lars and the Real Girl is an incredible balancing act and the cast and crew tread a fine line.
Gus, Karin, the family doctor, and indeed the whole town, come to accept Bianca the same way Lars does. One might be cynical about the way everyone just go along with Lars's delusion. That's how I felt initially. But the townsfolk make a choice to be accepting because Lars is such a sweet man and everyone wants the best for him. They dress up Bianca, take her everywhere on a wheelchair, chat with her, include her in church activities and keep her company while Lars goes to work. All done without judgement. In doing so, they are reaching out to Lars, and Lars reaches out through Bianca.
This ‘real’ girlfriend, though she doesn’t really do anything, brings everyone together on an unusual journey of growth. The effect she has on the town is real, and the emotional development that results in Lars comes across genuine and heartfelt. For a movie to be able to make the audience surrender this much cynicism is not a small achievement.