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Lars and the Real Girl

A movie directed by Craig Gillespie

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A contrarian's view

  • May 17, 2008
  • by
A few years ago, a major reviewer deeply criticized the movie O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?...primarily because he felt that the movie was mostly a condescending insult to the culture of the deep South...that it made fun of the people it was depicting. The reviewer had similar troubles with the Coen Brothers depiction of the residents of small towns in Minnesota in FARGO.

I had no such qualms. However, after having seen LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, I now understand how the critic felt.

Here we have a movie set in a small town somewhere up north (the movie was filmed in Canada). Lars is a young man, living in the converted detached garage of his brother and sister-in-law. He's a deeply quiet, shy and clearly troubled young man. He has a terrible moustache but clearly a gentle nature. He doesn't date, and can barely bring himself to socialize. At work, he interacts with his co-workers as little as possible. In fact, there isn't too much that is initially likeable about him.

One day a large box arrives for Lars, and hours later, he shows up at his brother's house, asking if he can bring his new girlfriend to dinner. His family is delighted, and are ready to eagerly greet the young lady. Lars then wheels in his wheelchair-bound sweetie, Bianca. There is one small additional problem...Bianca is a "sex doll." Although, thankfully, her mouth isn't in the shape of an "o"...she IS anatomically correct. Lars' shocked family doesn't quite know how to react, but they sure know Lars is not in his right mind.

Caring deeply for their family member, they are able to trick Lars into attending a kind of therapy with a sympathetic doctor (Patricia Clarkson)...who decides that everyone must simply play along with Lars' delusion, and in fact, make Bianca feel at home.

This is where much of the film lost me. I understand the whimsical idea that this little town full of simple, trusting folks go out of their way to pretend Bianca is real. Heck, they start inviting her to clubs and other events. She attends church. And the townspeople beam at the young couple happily. Lars begins to emerge from his shell a little bit, only to reveal himself to be a jealous boyfriend, prone to anger and to clinging. But what the scenes also do is make the townspeople look like idiots and buffoons.

I get it: they are kind, compassionate, open-minded and happy to take care of one of their own who is troubled. I don't have a problem with that notion. But the execution of the film just made me look at all these people and wonder...don't any of them have a bone of irony? Don't any of them ever snigger behind their hands or gossip when Lars isn't around? Won't any one of them say "Give me a break...she's a flippin' doll!!" This blind adherence to the quest to go along with whatever delusion Lars wants to enjoy makes the film languish with the same tone for a good, long chunk of time.

The best parts of the film are the brother and sister-in-law. Paul Schneider (SO good in ALL THE REAL GIRLS) is the confused, loving brother. He, more than anyone, understands the heartache and loss that has molded Lars to be the way he is. He feels the guilt of not having shielded his younger brother. It's a lovely depiction of the complicated, exasperated love a man can have for his brother. As the kindly and radiantly pregnant sister-in-law, Emily Mortimer shines. Their scenes together and with Lars are the real emotional heart of the film, and are the main reason to see it.

Ryan Gosling is a VERY talented actor, capable of a WIDE range. However, his me, at an easy series of ticks and goofy smiles. No doubt Gosling has internalized his character...but the script gives him nothing more to do than be a slightly goofy young man with some deep delusions. I wanted to like the performance more...but I felt I'd pretty much seen all there was to see of Lars in the first 15 minutes.

The movie builds to a conclusion many will find satisfying...but it actually left me questioning just what Lars did near the end. If his delusion was real to him...then his actions are far from harmless.

Anyway, this is a quaint movie that thinks it is saying a lot more than it is. To me, it mostly said, "hey, if you happen to be insane and delusional...pray you live in a small town where they don't know any better than to smile at you and play along." I know many will disagree with my take...and I admit it comes from a very visceral level...but hey, sometimes a movie just strikes you wrong.

But don't let me steer you clear. There are two really nice performances...and for many, the movie is a sweet, satisfying story. I hope it is for you.

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More Lars and the Real Girl reviews
review by . November 04, 2009
Pros: Good story, acting, and a surprising delight     Cons: May be too slow or different for some     The Bottom Line: A heartwarming story in a small town where people work together to help one man. Yay.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I don't remember if the trailer billed this movie as a comedy or not.  If they did, well, it's not.    That's not to say that it doesn't …
review by . May 02, 2009
This is not a movie for everyone. People who think every utterance regarding mental illness should be dealt with in a serious vein will probably be offended, if not outraged, by this movie. Likewise, those who have little tolerance for fantasy probably won't like it either.     But if you like good movies, it's a charmer.     Lars has had a dysfunctional childhood (like who hasn't?) and it plays out leaving him isolated in his community. In search of love, …
review by . December 12, 2008
Pros: Incredible acting. Very, very funny and touching. A film with a big heart.     Cons: None worth mentioning.     The Bottom Line: Lars and the Real Girl. It's quirky and offbeat. It's touching and symbolic. Mostly, it's VERY, VERY FUNNY. See it and enjoy.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Do you know anyone who is an outsider, a complete social misfit, .... who has no friends?     I …
review by . July 19, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Lars is a quiet and introverted kind of guy. He goes to work every day then he comes home to the garage apartment he lives in, adjacent to the house he grew up in and is now owned by his brother and sister-in-law.      As his pregnant sister-in-law's due date gets closer, Lars seems to emotionally and physically withdraw from his family and co-workers. Preferring to remain in the comforting small walls of his garage apartment, he starts garnering the concern of his sister-in-law. …
review by . July 19, 2008
Those are my people! That's my home land! Every face looks like one of my family, including Lars, who looks like a goofier me at the same age. The houses, the furniture, the downtown shops, the costumes, the church, the lake - it's all museum-quality Upper Midwest. Minnesota to me, since that's where I'm from. Only the accents and the dialogue in general don't sound Minnesotan, and I kinda wonder why not.    Given that we're all Scandihoovians together here, I can make some sense …
review by . April 19, 2008
Were anyone to suggest that a 'romance' between a guy and a blowup doll could become one of the more sensitive films of the year, it would be cause for derision - that is, before viewing LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. The improbable story was written by Nancy Oliver (the writer of many episodes of the TV series 'Six Feet Under') and directed by Craig Gillespie who gathered a particularly strong cast of actors to present this examination of compassion and love for an emotionally injured young man by small …
review by . April 17, 2008
Watch Lars once to marvel at the storytelling, the acting and the heart of this film. Watch it over and over again to absorb the charm, the quirk and life-altering love. At least that's my plan.      I adore films where ordinary and slightly broken people stretch and grow into someone inspiring and beautiful. This is that story, and not just one character inspires, several rise to the opportunity to become better versions of themselves.     Lars is damaged. …
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I've got my own site,, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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To some,Lars and the Real Girlwill play as comedy; to others, tragedy. Though Craig Gillespie (Mr. Woodcock) allows Lars Lindstrom (a mustachioed Ryan Gosling, miles away fromHalf Nelson) a happy ending, the road is far from smooth. This rumpled Midwesterner couldn't be more miserable. His brother, Gus (Paul Schneider,All the Real Girls), and sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer,Lovely and Amazing), fall over themselves to cheer him up, but Lars cannot be moved; he’s been like that since childhood. Then a porn-addicted co-worker hips him to the lifelike Real Doll. The next thing everyone knows, Lars has a new girlfriend named Bianca. She's from Brazil, she's shy, and she uses a wheelchair. She's also made of silicon. (Because Lars is a devout Christian, hanky-panky is out of the question.) Since he's finally emerging from his shell, his doctor, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), advises Gus and Karin to play along with the "delusion." Soon the whole town, including Margo (Kelli Garner), who harbors a not-so-secret crush on her officemate, gets in on the action, forcing Lars to rejoin the human race or crawl deeper into psychosis. Written bySix Feet Under's Nancy Oliver,Lars and the Real Girlis built around such a preposterous premise, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Fortunately, the actors play it straight. Gosling does his best to make Lars sympathetic, but Schneider and Mortimer, fully convincing in their concern, are the true...
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Director: Craig Gillespie
Screen Writer: Nancy Oliver
DVD Release Date: April 15, 2008
Runtime: 106 minutes
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
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