Ryan Gosling does everything except what people actually do with high-end love dolls in his latest film, Lars and the Real Girl. The film shatters our expectations almost immediately when it reassures us that it is more profound than tawdry, and that its quirks mask cracks of quiet desperation, which its inherent kindness instinctively develops into a transcendental journey for both characters and audience alike. Notwithstanding the insinuations of modern crudity in its conceit, the layers of complexities that it ends up mining makes director Craig Gillespie's (most recently of Mr. Woodcock) feature quite sincere and clever in its handling but never manipulative, a sidestep that not only owes to the top tier performances but to Nancy Olivers (Six Feet Under) deft script that rounds off its characters. Of Gillespies two films in the cinema halls this year, Lars and the Real Girl is inscrutably of the higher calibre.
Gosling is first among equals in the crop of young Hollywood actors. Dissimilar but not without commonalities from his previous roles, he intelligently plays emotionally damaged individuals with intensity and potent glimpses into their true nature. The film benefits immensely from the sterling lead performance by Gosling, who delves in Larss social disabilities for pathos without ever turning him into a sad-sack caricature. Evocating the human intangibles is difficult territory for any actor so Gosling does what even Lars would do by closing himself off physically, glazing over his expressions in a deadpan wasteland of emotions and internalising his conflict of rage and fears that he can only find comfort in something just as impassive in Bianca, the doll.
In its broad outline, Lars and the Real Girl presents a portrait of a man who buys an anatomically correct doll in proxy of opening himself to real relationships and to address his unfulfilled needs. But not his physical needs, because with vivid imagination, he paints Bianca from who she is, her ancestry, her convictions, and Lars finally finds his peace of mind when hes together with her. Its also about the divine graces that are created for its characters by other characters and how compassion is shared and returned.
Following the tracks on its storys exposed nerves, Gillespie initially sits back and lets Gosling take the reins by introducing us to Lars and his perceptions of the world around thats so enclosed in stagnation that it only serves to enshrine the milieu of a tight-knit community. It creates situations where unhappiness collides with spirited humour, a remarkable balance of tone that carries the weight of nuances and momentous epiphanies. Intrinsically, the film is just a modest story that reveals something much more about humanistic qualities still at work in a cynical world.
Theres a deeply rooted message of tolerance in this film thats being adopted by many Christian moviegoers as well, despite its blow-up catalyst. In a world of cinematic crassness and furious banalities of venomous dysfunction, it takes more effort to carry the problems of our troubled kin on our backs than to ostracise and repel. The film understands, profoundly and with love and sadness, the fundamental fragilities that shape us. In a landscape of other films that advocate conflict, it is unusual to witness this film, which actually wants its characters to get along and be happy. Lars and the Real Girl is one of the best films of the year.