Many people find one of the main appeals of independent cinema is its tendency to make them say “What the fuck?” in response to its method of tackling a number of serious issues. Lars And The Real Girl is a perfect example of the quirky, indie approach to emphasizing isolation and loneliness within human nature. Get this: The film chooses to outline such issues by having its lead character Lars (Ryan Gosling), a shy and sensitive guy who lives in the garage apartment behind his brother, purchase a blow-up doll from the Internet and then go around announcing to people in the local community that “she” is his girlfriend.
This may seem like an hilarious premise (and admittedly there are some funny moments in the film), but the emotional depth in Lars makes this a serious tale of one man being locked in a delusional state of mind, as a result of wanting to be accepted. The viewer is introduced to the main character as he sits alone at home in the dark, wrapped in his Mother’s blanket, avoiding contact from people as best he can. He is socially inept, unable to develop a close relationship with his older brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), who he believes doesn’t understand him, and he also rejects any attempt from his sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), to reach out.
Lars sees what he regards as the only opportunity to develop a close bond with an opposite via an advert on the Internet. He purchases a life-size sex doll from an adult store and shows up on his brother and sister-in-law’s doorstep announcing that he has met someone. Though, to their surprise, it is not his sweet co-worker, Margo (Kelli Garner), who obviously fancies him, but a half-Brazilian, half-Danish disabled missionary, named Bianca — his plastic fiancée.
Naturally, Lars’ deviation from the norm startles and worries everyone, prompting them to take him to see the family doctor (Patricia Clarkson). She advises everyone to go along with his delusion, treating him (and Bianca) as if they were normal human beings within the community. Lars drags Bianca everywhere, even to church, and people look at him weirdly at first, but through an obvious compassion for his good-naturedness, they understand his condition and treat him and his fantasy girlfriend with the utmost respect.
Lars is a weird tale, but it isn’t weird purely for the sake of being weird. The film doesn’t just get off on shock value (excuse the pun); it’s actually a very heart-warming and intriguing tale, which deals with mental illness at the root of the problem. Some may think the premise sounds too far-fetched, but the irony of it is how real it all seems. Craig Gillespie directs the film with such delicacy, focusing on Lars’ painful vulnerability, which unveils a bittersweet tale that is shocking yet subtle at the same time. This could so easily have been a raunchy comedy filled with cheap smut references, but the film’s gentle direction accompanied by a well-written script and some potent photography makes the whole experience very endearing indeed.
Gosling is terrific. His performance manages to find the perfect balance between ordinary and extraordinary. His eyes twitch and he smiles advertently, but he doesn’t creep the viewer out with the problems his character is facing; if anything, he allows the viewer to embrace Lars, inviting everyone into his fantasy so that they can attempt to understand him. Gosling generates a good amount of sympathy, but is so precise that he doesn’t overdo it — everything he does seems so natural. The Notebook aside, it isn’t difficult to see why he is becoming recognised as one of the most talented actors of his generation.
Lars And The Real Girl is a story of good human nature willing to accept the delusional mindstate of one lonely individual. Its desire is to bring people together, inspiring them to comfort the troubled souls within society as a whole. Gosling is terrific, as said, but the film is also aided by some inspirational performances from Schneider, Mortimer, Garner and Clarkson, which make the film a very precious experience for the viewer. It does start off a little slow, and some may find its premise off-putting, but the film ends up being a surprisingly uplifting and heart-warming tale of human complexity.