Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

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Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Postby justindeimen » Sun Oct 21, 2007 6:55 am


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.

Re: Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Oct 21, 2007 9:15 pm

Wonderful review, Justin. You've captured the film quite well. Lars and the Real Girl was one of the better American films I saw at TIFF, and I'm looking forward to viewing it again.

Re: Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Postby justindeimen » Tue Oct 23, 2007 5:43 am

Thanks! I hadn't heard of it before I watched it but I am not surprised that it's being received well. I'm also not surprised that a fair amount of people hate it as well. I suppose it might have been a bit twee and optimistic for many but personally I found that goodwill to be something that separates it from a similar pack of films that skew towards condescension.

Re: Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Dec 19, 2007 7:01 am


A second viewing of Lars and the Real Girl not only allowed me to appraise its copious virtues but it also granted me the opportunity to consider the critical reaction for the first time with the film still fresh in my mind (as noted earlier, my initial viewing took place at TIFF 07). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was generally received quite well. However, a few cynical comments/reactions (quite astonishing for such a sweet-natured movie) did caught my eye, stemming mostly from those who seem to have misread the film to some degree. While the relatively mild review by Manohla Dargis, a critic I highly admire, cant be qualified in that category, she hinted towards a couple of concerns that are worthy of a response. First, there appears to be a misconception out there that the film takes place in some backward Podunk town. The setting is a small town for sure, somewhere in the Midwest perhaps, but it is of the kind that exists near most small-to-midsize cities, though not close enough to be officially deemed a suburb. Moreover, besides our Brazilian-Danish protagonist, the film also introduced us to a number of individuals from diverse race and ethnic backgrounds that were already part of the community, thus allowing us to make our own logical conclusions. Secondly, which relates to the earlier point, the notion that theres some sort of innate evil festering in such places, with the root cause being the people whore leading these hypocritical middle-class lives, is just plain silly. It is one that has only been advanced in recent years by the work of Lynch and von Trier and others. The truth is more complex, of course. Simply put, therere good and bad people everywhere, and one could obviously go on to break it down much further than that. But if those filmmakers chose to present one extreme for personal, political, artistic purposes, then someone else has just as much a right to display the other side, if you will, especially when its done with such Capra-esque humanity. And the filmmakers didnt merely wallow in the goodness of it all, or tried to shove it down everyones throats; the proceeding primarily unfolded in a matter-of-fact way, eschewing comedic opportunities that perhaps couldve diverted into being farcical. Could this material be utilized to make a very different kind of film? Probably yes, but Lars is fine the way it is.

Gosling was indeed wonderful. While the film held on to its convictions about the character, he subtly allowed us a few glimpses behind his demeanor. He has previously given some wonderful performances in mediocre films, so it was good to see him in an effort which is worthy of his talents. Among the supporting cast, Emily Mortimer was charming as always. Some may remember Paul Schneider from the two David Gordon Green films: George Washington (2000) and All the Real Girls (2003) (he could also be seen in this years The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). I wasnt sure about Patricia Heaton after the first viewing, but hers was a resolutely low-key performance. Perhaps the final two sequences couldve been more moderately staged (the earlier what would Jesus do? which cuts to the congregation was sufficient), but for a film which accomplishes such a balancing act when it comes to tone and clarity, I forgive.

Grade: B+

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