Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Lars and the Real Girl


This is the other first feature movie, written by a woman, to get an Oscar nomination this year. (Nancy Oliver also wrote seven episodes of “Six Feet Under.”) Diablo Cody took home the iron, but Oliver has nothing to be ashamed of. In another year, she might have won. And I think it’s interesting that the two bravest and most unusual original screenplays this year were both by women. Writing is still the easiest of the creative jobs in the industry for females to get into. Women directors are still a very much in the minority.

There’s no getting around it, somebody tries to describe this film to you and it sounds … creepy. You try to describe it to somebody else and it sounds creepy. It is not, not even a little bit but here goes … a terminally shy young man of 27 buys a “love doll” and treats it like a real human being. Aw, c’mon, you can’t be serious! Wait, wait, there’s more! The whole town decides to pretend she’s a real girl, too. Now you’ve got to be pulling my leg!

This could be an Adam Sandler comedy full of fart jokes, funny attempts to fuck the anatomically-correct “Bianca,” and similar horseshit. I’d lose my lunch. The script never descends to any hint of anything like that, though the funniest scenes are of people reacting to seeing Lars and Bianca for the first time. She is not one of these beach-toy inflatables but a very expensive solid rubber mannequin that Lars keeps in a wheelchair. For any of this to work you have to like Lars, and it’s quite an assignment for Ryan Gosling, who pulls it off perfectly. It also helps to have good actors in all the supporting roles, and each of them score a perfect ten, particularly Patricia Clarkson, who Lee and I adore, as the doctor/psychologist who provides what explanations are needed for this bizarre experiment in loving conspiracy. There are real people who are phobic about females, about being touched, about sex in general. Lars is all of these, but he’s also probably the nicest guy in town. He’s not retarded in any way except emotionally, and Bianca is the way his mind has found to pull himself out of loneliness. The doctor, the sister-in-law, the people in town, and eventually the guilt-ridden brother realize this, and that’s why they play along. Eventually it becomes much more than playing.

The user ratings at Metacritic were either 10s or 1s. Not much middle ground. The people who hated it all focused on the unlikelihood of a whole town conspiring together in this insanity … for insanity it is, Lars is clearly delusional, and the doctor points this out. But he’s harmless, and what can it hurt?

Could it really happen? I very much doubt it, though small towns are funny, and I’ve heard of some actual happenings that warm the heart … but if you insist on seeing only things that could happen, you may not like this. Some people don’t like Frank Capra films. I adore them, and this is as Capraesque as it gets. It’s a fable, folks. Lighten up.

BTW: Watch the extra material on the DVD, in particular the short one about “A Real Actress,” where the actors and director and producer and writer carry on the conspiracy, talking about how it was to work with Bianca, and Gosling sits with her as they both are interviewed. Sweet, and very funny.