Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl (2007, Dan Gillespie)

Sure-footed execution triumphs over dicey subject matter in Lars and the Real Girl, a surprisingly affecting indie about a young man, his realistic sex-doll girlfriend, and the community that rallies around them. It's important that the film takes place in a small town- this is a close-knit community that protects its own, and it's inconceivable that the story would play the same way in a big city. I think the tone is key here, since while it's pitched as a light comedy, it never becomes smutty and rarely dabbles in irony, which makes the occasional points where it does stick out all the more (like the throwaway joke where we find out that "Bianca" has gotten elected to public office). I believe these two points go hand in hand- the portrayal of a small town is less Napoleon Dynamite than All the Real Girls, and it can't be accidental that Gillespie cast two of the film's stars, Patricia Clarkson and Paul Schneider, in significant roles here. Gillespie also takes the central premise seriously, which becomes clear in the directing choices he makes throughout the film, shooting Bianca as a flesh-and-blood character, even giving her the occasional reaction shot. But that the laughs the film gets are almost all of the "good" variety is as much as tribute to the actors, beginning with Ryan Gosling as Lars. Gosling doesn't play Lars as crazy or a yokel, but as a gentle, painfully withdrawn young man who latches on to his delusion. Surprisingly, he doesn't use Bianca for sex, but role-plays with her much the same way a child does with a favorite doll or stuffed animal, projecting his own somewhat arrested ideas of what it means to be a boyfriend and to care for/about a woman. And the supporting cast- Clarkson, Schneider, Emily Mortimer, Kelli Garner- is just as assured, putting over a storyline that might seem simultaneously icky and quirky and making it surprisingly affecting. There were times when I had a hard time buying how completely the town embraced Lars and Bianca, but the film works surprisingly well, which under the circumstances was no mean feat. Rating: 7 out of 10.

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