What a doll
The guy definitely gets the girl in this quirky little film
This offbeat entertainment is a gentle and genuinely charming tour de force. Partly comic fantasy and partly psychodrama, it dances around conventional expectations in sprightly fashion and somehow steers clear of the extremes of sappy sentimentality and lurid sensationalism that its premises seem to invite.
The eponymous Lars, you see, is both pathetic and heroic—a gentle but by no means hopeless nut-case, a nice young man who seems perfectly “normal” except for a deep-seated fear of direct contact, physical and emotional, with other human beings. And the “real girl” of the title is a life-size inflatable doll he treats as a living, breathing girlfriend who has come to visit him at his deceased parents’ home that he shares with his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’ wife Karin (Emily Mortimer).
But, even more to the paradoxical point of this surprising little film, the family doctor (Patricia Clarkson) determines that Lars is delusional but not dangerous and that playing along with the delusion just might lead to a cure. Karin and Gus take this advice to heart, the former more enthusiastically than the latter, and soon—by one of the movie’s small miracles—everyone who knows Lars, in the neighborhood and at work, is playing along as well.
The spontaneous, good-natured community spirit in a small upper-Midwest town puts the story somewhere between Frank Capra and Garrison Keillor, with screenwriter Nancy Oliver (HBO’s Six Feet Under) adding a few twists of offbeat psychology and social irony. And director Craig Gillespie’s smart staging and deft direction of actors make Oliver’s magic work in winning fashion, in an otherwise modest and unassuming production.
Ryan Gosling’s adroitly nuanced Lars is very much the centerpiece of all this, and that actor’s blend of comic pathos and understated emotion is crucial to the calm, quiet intelligence of a tale that might easily have spilled over into sentimental gush. Clarkson’s warily inspired psychologist/physician and Mortimer’s youthfully maternal sprite are key contributors to this enchantingly eccentric emotional mix.
There are two other female angels of note in Lars’ story—a warmly pragmatic neighbor lady played by Nancy Beatty and the guilelessly flirtatious Margo (Kelli Garner), the co-worker whose attentive interest in Lars is the key factor setting both the comedy and the drama in motion. And Schneider gives fine, edgy support in the role of Gus, showing nice subtlety in both the reaction-shot comedy and various bits of fraternal mini-drama.