Monday, February 11, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

“The search for true love begins outside the box.”

Karin (Emily Mortimer) and Gus (Paul Schneider) are expecting a new baby, but the person Karin is most concerned with is Gus’s shy and awkward younger brother Lars (Ryan Gosling) who keeps everyone at arms length and seems to have trouble with intimacy and with social gatherings. And who is terribly lonely, whether he admits it or not.

Out of the blue Lars announces he has met a girl on the Internet who has come to visit. Bianca is a beautiful, smart, and kind paralyzed Danish-Brazilian missionary. She’s also a Real Doll (a lifelike and anatomically correct sex doll made of silicone) who Lars bought online. Now, given the state of gross-out humor popular today, you might think you know where the film is going, but you would be wrong.

The beauty of Nancy Oliver‘s script is the humanity and simplicity of the story. Lars is reaching out to try and connect and learn to have an adult relationship. Far from being lurid or crude as you would expect given recently films like Suprbad and The Heartbreak Kid (among many others), Lars’ love affair with Bianca is a chaste as a 1960’s Disney film. Bianca sleeps in Karin and Gus’s spare bedroom and “her” relationship to Lars, though romantic, is in no way sexual.

As the truth about Lars’s new girlfriend is spread around the small northern town the residents, rather than ostracize or ridicule the confused young man, embrace them both. Bianca becomes a fixture in the town volunteering at the hospital, showing up regularly at the beauty salon, going to church, and even being voted onto the school board! And Lars, with a new found confidence, attends gatherings and parties he could never have ventured to alone.

There are many terrific moments throughout the film, including the amazement and slack-jawed disbelief of people meeting Bianca for the first time. Also Patricia Clarkson puts in a nice supprorting performance as the town’s psychiatrist and doctor who provides “treatment” to Bianca while secretly counseling Lars.

The film is about a young man learning what it means to love and an entire town supporting and helping Lars take the babysteps into adulthood. It’s as sweet and romantic a love story as you are likely to find this year. Original and unconventional it might be, but the emotion of the story is universal and heart-warming.

Although the film is terrific it does have a few flaws. One of the few conventions it relies on is the hot young, but ignored, town girl (Kelli Garner) who has a crush on Lars. I’m not a fan of this contrivance which seems has become a necessity in most romantic films of the past two decades. It’s one of the few places the film relies on a much over-used cliche.

As lurid as a film about a man’s relationship to a sex doll sounds the film is the exact opposite. In an era of over-sexed, gross-out flicks, a film like this is simply delightful. You may have to search for it, for although it is getting a wide release many of the big megaplexes won’t touch this “sex doll” film which is a mistake for them and a big loss for the movie going public who would no doubt enjoy a film that is both funny and poignant, sweet and dramatic, and one of the most original, sweetest, and pleasant surprises of the year.

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