Do you think I could bring my girlfriend?
Sometimes people snap. That snapping is the central premise of any number of films. One can ask whether or not people can ever really get glued back together. They say of alcoholics that one is never cured, just sober. That is, until they’re not. So, even if they pull it together, those around her or him are always on snap-watch. Unlike bones, once broken and healed, the mind is not made stronger. Oh well, this is comedy.
Lars (Ryan Gosling) has a breakdown in some far northern town. He’s always been a little weird with people, but not like this. He’s ordered an artificial “realdoll” called Bianca. Bianca’s back story is rather similar to Lars’s and their lives are connected. Lars’s brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Karin (Emily Mortimer), his wife, are very concerned. I guess you would be too if your brother carried home his new girlfriend that he assembled out of a box. But the doctor (Patricia Clarkson) says that they should just go along with it. I’m pretty sure that’s the complete opposite of what a doctor would say, but the movie would kind of stop in its tracks. Either way, go along they do and the whole town gets involved–a little too involved, maybe. A coworker, Margo (Kelli Garner), keeps trying to start a relationship with Lars, but that’s pretty difficult to do when he runs away to the garage where he lives whenever he’s faced with human interaction. But slowly, Bianca brings him out into society.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007), directed by Craig Gillespie, is a truly wonderful movie. It’s got heart, it’s got laughs, it’s got acting–really great acting. The story is incredibly simple in a way–perhaps deceptively. You’ve basically got Gus/Karin, the Doctor, Margo, and Bianca as Lars’s only interactions and all are limited. And yet, we have a full picture of Lars and some darn good sketches of the others. As I say, a lot of that has to do with the heart/laughs that come from the script. But much more comes from the actors.
Gosling, who I’ve basically decided is Marlon Brando without the serious attitude problems, puts in a great performance. I’m going to have to immediately retreat since I am of the opinion that to play crazy or weird is not very difficult. Here, though, we’ve got a character that has to develop before our eyes without any major events. Lars is so incredibly sad and lonely that I have to respect the performance as a whole.
The supporting group I pointed out were also quite good. Mortimer I’ve always liked and she is as terrific as usual, maybe more terrific. In the Smart People (2008) review, I mentioned how Sarah Jessica Parker failed to take her limited role to the next level. Well, Mortimer does. Clarkson also stands out as putting in a particularly good performance. I saw her recently in Easy A (2010) where she was the cool, semi-goofy mom. Here, she’s far more staid. She plays the character with infinite sensitivity and gravity and it’s perfect.
I’ve been talking about townspeople, so there really needs to be a positive caveat. You might see “townspeople” and think an ensemble piece filled with popular character actors. Then, when the big reveal happens we have to cut to each of their faces in turn to get a free chuckle at their reaction. This isn’t one of those movies. It’s about Lars. The townspeople are just there for him. They get Bianca very involved in the community. Helping out at the soup kitchen or going to the beautician. They don’t do this for the laugh, they do it to help. How nice.
I can’t say much more about this movie. Perhaps it’s one of those movies that is all about the experience rather than what it brings to you upon reflection. That is often sign of real badness in a movie. Not in this case. This is an experience like coming to know a new person in your life. You might not see them all that often, but they’ve left an impression.