LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
Lars (Ryan Gosling) lives and works in a small northern US town with his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer), secluding himself in the ample garage. He resists all Karin's attempts to socialize, but one winter's day he announces he has a visitor. It turns out to be a life size doll; he calls her Bianca and treats her like a real girl, complete with her life story. Unsure how to behave, Gus and Karin ask local doctor Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) for help; she diagnoses delusion, but has no remedy, except to suggest they treat Bianca as real, too. Slowly, the community - even his workmate Margo (Kelli Garner), who has a soft spot for Lars - also befriends Lars' silent girlfriend, and Lars struggles to overcome the demons that bind him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Australian-born director Craig Gillespie does a great job handling Nancy Oliver's script about an introverted young man who finds it easier to have an imaginary relationship with a life sized doll than with his fellow humans. The trauma of his mother's death in childbirth has haunted him all his life, and his reluctance for close human contact takes physical form in stinging pain when his skin is touched. But this explanation hardly comes close to explaining the wonderfully upbeat, genuinely humane mood that Gillespie maintains even in the film's darker moments. Nancy Oliver's highly original screenplay, winner of National Board of Review's Original Screenplay Award (2007) and rightly nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA, juggles the elements adroitly, allowing us to laugh at the inherent humour of the situation while at the same time taking it seriously.
Ryan Gosling does a terrific job creating Lars, a complex character who is not naturally shy but whose emotions have been crippled. He is totally convincing as the troubled soul with a yearning to love and unable to channel it - except to Bianca, a life sized doll. Emily Mortimer makes a likeable and credible Karin, whose concern is sincere and enduring. Paul Schneider is magnificent as Lars' older brother, guilt ridden over his earlier decision to leave home with Lars to live alone with their problematic father.
All the supports are first rate, notably Kelli Garner as Margo, the young woman from Lars' office who has a secret crush on him, but too proud to compete with Bianca the lifeless doll, whose origins on the internet are well known, but while acknowledging the sexual connotation, the filmmakers turn that into a subject for humour, not sleaze.
If the complicity of the entire community, from the church to the hospital to fall in with the pretence is straining credibility, perhaps we should recognise that that's how communities ought to behave.
The film is at once entertaining, heartwarming and thought provoking, hard to label and impossible to simplify - but really easy to enjoy.
Review by Louise Keller:
This charmer of a film is one that you will never forget. The elements are so bizarre, yet, like the film's characters, we are able to take a leap of faith and never look back. Take Nancy Oliver's brilliant script, director Craig Gillespie's ability to get the tone spot on and Ryan Gosling's marvellous performance, and all the ingredients are in place for something special. My initial thought as Gosling's damaged Lars introduces us to his new friend Bianca, with the pouting red lips, fish net stockings and knee-high black patent boots, is how can this concept be sustained and developed to more than just a one-joke premise. Cleverly, is the answer, as we join the small community in accepting this plastic beauty as a living doll, and start to care not only for her, but for Lars and their relationship. Although the situations are often shriek-with-laughter funny, the film is seriously gentle, never laughing at the characters.
Just as the small community is vital to the story in As It Is In Heaven, so too, are the caring locals in this small town in the mid-west. When Patricia Clarkson's local doctor Dagmar advises Gus (Paul Schneider) and Karin (Emily Mortimer) to treat Bianca in the same way that Lars would wish, they cannot conceive how the scenario will play out. Initially, there are some hilarious scenes as we watch the locals' reactions as Bianca makes an appearance at church, gets involved in social functions and even becomes elected onto local committees. Nothing comes close to that first scene when Lars brings her home for dinner, when the ridiculous collides with the incredulous.
The direction is simple, as is the music and the way the film is shot. There is a matter-of-factness to the way the story unfolds and the serious underlying emotional issues are treated with the utmost of respect. Ryan Gosling is truly extraordinary (this is surely his best work to date), but so too are the other performances. There's Patricia Clarkson as the astute and caring doctor, Paul Schneider as the guilt-carrying brother, Emily Mortimer as the warm, open-hearted sister in law, and Kelli Garner as Margo, Lars' work colleague who harbours a secret crush on him. I get emotional just thinking about this delightful film that takes us on a wondrous journey that is funny, overtly moving and uplifting. I want to see it again.
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LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (PG)
CAST: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson, Nancy Beatty
PRODUCER: Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron, Sidney Kimmel
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
SCRIPT: Nancy Oliver
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Kimmel
EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel
MUSIC: David Tom
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arvinder Grewal
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 13, 2008
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