What I thought might be a one trick pony turned out to be a pleasant and involving romance about a young man overcoming his fear of connecting with people.
As Lars in Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling brings gravity and personality to a character that if tailored to fit a big named comic movie star like Jim Carrey or Will Smith might have lost some of his sincerity. Gosling is grounded though and that’s what makes this story work, that’s what allows the audience to become involved in what is actually a pretty absurd idea. It’s easy for us to believe that the town would go along with it when Lars introduces a blow up doll as his real girl friend whom he met on-line. We There are grumbles for sure, especially from his older brother, but because we care so much for this harmless young man, we want them to go along with it. Because in a sense isn’t that what they’ve sometimes imagined, isn’t that what we sometimes imagine when things are horrible in real life, to live out those romances we see in the movies, where we meet the perfect companion, and experience those dramatic ups and downs as if we were in a three act structure, ending happily or tragically.
Knowing though that he needs help his brother, Paul Shneider, and sister-in-law, Emily Mortimer, trick him into seeing Doctor Dagmar. I’ve always liked Patricia Clarkson as an actress and feel she’s been over looked in many ways, as always she turns in a wonderful performance as the Doctor trying to help Lars overcome his inability to connect and this begins Lars’ journey in which he has to discover that sometimes reality can be more appealing than those safely empty fictions forced upon us, that the dummy obviously represents.
The real girl spoken of in the movie title is not the dummy, but a real girl working the same office job as Lars, who happens to have a crush on him. She represents the other side of what Lars wants. There are many hilarious moments shared between the two, and I was genuinely surprised by how honestly these moments were handled. And that’s where Lars finds it’s heart, by denying those easy popcorn moments and giving us something that shows these characters for who they are and allows them to truly be affected by one another. That’s where the comedy is found, not through 4-quadrant placating, but through simplicity.
Even with it’s “We learned a lot from this dummy” ending, the movie glides peacefully to a it’s perch and allows us to savor it’s beauty. This is in a large part due to Craig Gillespie’s even handed approach at directing the material. While Lars is touchingly living out one of those studio produced romantic trageides, Gillespie consciously avoids all of those goo ridden weepy “I’ll love you for the rest of my life” moments that even kind of good films like Phenomenon cling desperately to.
As a side note, the scenes of winter felt very real. Having lived in Los Angeles for the past 5 years these moments made me yearn for some snowfall. Any film that feels this real isn’t concerned with upping the ante to the penultimate maximum cathartic love or die moment nor does it feel like quick resolutions come from a sound stage on a back lot. It wants us to believe along with it that there is hope for real connections between people.