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Monday, October 22, 2007

Film Review: Lars is The Real Thing

Gosling preps for his David Arquette look-alike contest.

The premise of Lars and The Real Girl is so singularly silly that it's hard to explain what the film is about without risking terminal alienation, which is a shame because the film is quite enjoyable. So, there's an introverted guy who lives in a small town and thinks his sex doll is a real woman. Now that that's out of the way let me tell you about the good stuff.

There is the stellar cast led by star-in-the-making Ryan Gosling. Gosling takes a character that could just have been left as goofy or pathetic and gives him genuine depth, humor and pathos. It's a terrific performance, as Oscar-worthy as his turn in Half Nelson. Patricia Clarkson is on hand as a perceptive and even-keeled doctor/shrink who helps to draw Lars out, Emily Mortimer is radiant as Lar's sister-in-law and Kelli Garner plays a tricky role very well as a co-worker who has a romantic spark for Lars.

The part of the film that will trouble the "That would never happen in real life" crowd is when the town bands together to help Lars by going along with his doll fantasy. Director Craig Gillespie (who also improbably helmed this years awful Mr. Woodcock) treads lightly, finding comedy and sweetness in the town's efforts to help Lars by supporting his delusion. There is a kinship here with British films like Waking Ned Devine or The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain -- quirky towns who pull together for the greater good. Screenplay by Nancy Oliver smartly sketches out some of the psychology behind Lar's behavior in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but never resorts to a flat explanation or confessional outburst by Gosling.

The film may overreach a bit in the extent that the town goes not to puncture Lar's delusion. It's refreshing that there isn't a town bully or some such force to create a contrived showdown but perhaps some apathy would be more realistic. The last quarter also seems to stretch a bit far in the use of institutions and town resources that would provoke a few more questions from those that may not be fully onboard.

Generally though the spell that Lars' casts holds, and the chorus of "awwwws" from the many women at the screening suggests that there is a thriving audience ready and willing to take Ryan Gosling to their bosoms and perhaps not let go. The film manages to walk a tough tonal tightrope between humor and sweet drama.

Lars and The Real Girl gets four out of five sex dolls:

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