When I first saw the preview for Lars and the Real Girl in the theater, it looked like a quirky, offbeat comedy. Not so much. Sure, there are funny awkward moments, and on the surface the movie is about Lars’ unconventional relationship with a doll. But the real heart of the story is centered upon a man working through issues of loneliness, abandonment, and fear of loss, and upon the family and friends who love him enough to go above and beyond to help him recover.
“We Are Family…”
The way the entire town rallies around Lars (and Bianca) reminds me of the citizens of Stars Hollow on the television show Gilmore Girls. Those folks were always there when Lorelai and Rory needed them, and they were always quirky and entertaining to the viewing audience. In Lars and the Real Girl, we don’t get to know the townspeople very well, but we do get a sense that they care deeply for Lars. Some of my favorite town rallying moments: the lady giving Bianca the church flower arrangement, Gus’s co-workers joining Lars and Margo in a game of bowling, and the church ladies coming over to “sit” with Lars during a difficult time.
The Actors and Their Characters
- Ryan Gosling (Lars Lindstrom) – This was so much better than his previous movie, Fracture, in which the development of his character made no sense to me. As Lars, he portrays all of this delusional man’s ups, downs, and breakthrough moments in impressive fashion.
- Emily Mortimer (Lars’ sister-in-law Karin) – Although this Brit has been in tons of movies over the past decade, I know her best as Phoebe, Jack Donaghy’s “Avian Bone Syndrome” fiancee. She’s hilarious in that role, but as Karin she has a chance to really flex her acting muscles. One scene has her looking incredulous while trying to maintain her composure when Lars brings his new (doll) girlfriend to dinner, another scene has her chiding Lars for accusing her of not caring, and another has her desperately trying to force Lars into some social activity, with the ultimate result of her tackling him in the driveway.
- Paul Schneider (Lars’ older brother Gus) – Schneider is becoming the next John C. Reilly, now that Reilly seems to have abandoned his role as a character actor to become a slapstick comedian (see Step Brothers, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Talladega Nights, etc.). I preferred Reilly in movies like Magnolia and The Good Girl. But getting back to Schneider, I first saw him in Elizabethtown, where he played a small town, fun-loving, wannabe rocker. Here he is a blue collar family man and a loving husband, doing what he can to help his brother while also feeling like he’s responsible for Lars’ delusion, since he basically abandoned him when he was still a child.
- Patricia Clarkson (Dr. Dagmar) – This small town family practitioner, who doubles as a psychologist, certainly knew her way around a delusional man! Clarkson played it calm and collected as the sly Dr. Dagmar. I loved how she was able to have sessions with Lars without him ever knowing it, since he was just “keeping her company” while Bianca received her weekly treatments. One of my favorite things about this movie was seeing Lars gradually letting go of his delusion and re-embracing people as a result of these sessions.
- The Love Doll (Bianca) – I just had to mention Bianca here. She really was a realistic doll. Sometimes when she was in the background of a shot, I would almost think I saw her eyes or lips move. But, she was just an inanimate doll (albeit well-dressed and with great hair). Kudos to all the actors who had individual scenes with her, of course most notably Ryan Gosling, who had to portray a delusional relationship with her. Mortimer and Schneider, and really all of the townspeople, had the task of interacting with her in a way that showed that they knew she was a doll but were pretending she was real. How many movies require that of an actor? I can’t think of any.
A Movie in a Class All Its Own?
While this is the first movie I’ve seen that revolves around a guy and his Love Doll girlfriend, I wouldn’t call it completely unique. It reminded me of a couple of other movies – Elizabethtown and The Station Agent.
I count Elizabethtown among my favorite movies. I love the music, the characters, and the story. The similarity to Lars and the Real Girl is in how its main character, Drew (Orlando Bloom), has to come to terms with certain aspects of his life. While Lars feels lonely and abandoned, Drew blames himself for his loneliness because he basically abandoned his family to pursue his career. Over the course of the movie, Drew slowly accepts his mistakes and starts to see the world in a new way. Rather than placing ambition and career success on a pedestal, he comes to value family, love, and life’s simple pleasures (like dancing in the forest, driving cross country, and listening to a song that perfectly fits a moment). The two movies also share a similar small-town setting, as well as a host of likable characters who rally around the protagonist.
The other movie that I was reminded of was The Station Agent, which shares similar themes of solitude, loss, and unconventional relationships. The Station Agent is about Finbar McBride (played by Peter Dinklage), a city-dwelling dwarf who moves to a rural area when his only friend dies. His plan is to live a life of solitude in an abandoned train station, but instead he finds himself befriending a trio of other lonely souls: a Cuban hot dog vendor, a grieving artist, and a free-spirited young woman. Incidentally, Patricia Clarkson (Dr. Dagmar in Lars) plays the artist in The Station Agent. I liked how that movie showed how friendship and social contact can help hurting individuals work through and come to terms with their situations. Lars left me with a similar feeling about the power of human connection.
So, my assessment of Lars and the Real Girl is that it is a movie well worth watching. I give it a letter grade of A. And I’ll keep my eye on Ryan Gosling and Paul Schneider, who are both becoming impressive actors.