Dir: Craig Gillespie USA 2007. 106 mins.
Ryan Gosling, one of the finest actors currently working in American independent cinema, is once again outstanding in this offbeat but exceptionally accomplished film. Starting off as funny and quirky, Lars and the Real Girl gradually becomes a riveting yet never heavy-handed psychological portrait of a lost soul who thinks no one loves him.
Directedby the Australian-born Craig Gillespie, the film is studded with uniformly terrific performances, and should be a modest but steady winner in all territories. If handled correctly, and if audiences can get past the superficially outlandish aspects of the plot, the film could conceivably become this year's Napoleon Dynamite or Garden State.
Gosling plays Lars, a gentle but emotionally stunted man in his late twenties, who one day has a life-size, 'anatomically correct' sex doll delivered to the garage he lives in behind the house occupied by his elder brother Gus (Schneider) and his pregnant wife Karin (Mortimer). The problem is, he seems to think the doll is a real woman named Bianca. A laid-back local doctor named Dagmar (Clarkson), who doubles as a psychiatrist, is called in to help and decides that the best way to handle Lars' delusion is by going along with it.
After a lot of laughs and a wonderful string of inspired sight gags are wrung from this almost surrealist premise, gradually the small town folk begin to accept Bianca, who is pushed around in a wheelchair, as a valued member of the community.
If the scriptwriter Nancy Oliver had left things there, however, soon enough the film would have run out of steam.Just at the moment viewers may begin to wonder where the story can possibly go next, a convincing and occasionally even moving psychological study of Lars is introduced that takes us satisfyingly to the film's conclusion.Nevertheless, the filmmakers are savvy enough to know that the laughs have to keep coming as well, and the fish-out-of-water aspect of the basic premise is periodically re-invoked to keep us fully entertained.By the end, we and the townsfolk come to love Bianca as a person yet all the while realising at some level that she's still only a doll.
The four central performances are brilliantly carried off.Gosling's quirky gestures always seem simultaneously arresting and completely natural, while Schneider, who is also excellent in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, more than holds his own.The British actress Emily Mortimer, who was so moving in 2004's Dear Frankie, provides the emotional centre of the film, while indie goddess Patricia Clarkson is drolly humorous without drawing inordinate attention to herself.
The dialogue is witty and sparkling and the comic timing impeccable. And once its comic credentials have been firmly validated, the film can go on to explore such potentially weighty topics as abandonment, the nature of manhood, and the warmth of human touch.
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment (US)
Kimmel International (US)
Tatiana S. Riegel