Movie review by Greg Carlson
Director Craig Gillepsie’s “Lars and the Real Girl” is more simple-minded than simple, a transparent family psychodrama without any original ideas beyond its outrageous premise. Awkward, guilt-ridden bachelor Lars (Ryan Gosling in twitching, grimacing nerd mode) stuns his brother, pregnant sister-in-law, and assorted townsfolk when he introduces them to his girlfriend Bianca, who turns out to be a sex mannequin. A far cry from cheap, inflatable plastic, Bianca is a “Real Doll,” a high-tech, anatomically correct silicone masterpiece with an internal skeleton and steel joints.
Voyeuristic viewers expecting something lurid or titillating will be completely disappointed, though, since Lars insists that Bianca is a Brazilian-Danish missionary with good old-fashioned values. She sleeps in the house while he steadfastly remains in his apartment in the garage. Despite some initial protest, Lars’ brother Gus (Paul Schneider) joins his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) as world-class enablers. Because “Lars and the Real Girl” operates in a Lake Wobegone-like fantasyland, viewers are invited to chuckle at the eccentric, countrified rustics. It is a fatal design flaw, since the movie only rarely allows any of its inhabitants the opportunity to pose challenging questions related to the arrival of a gape-mouthed simulacrum.
Spun from Nancy Oliver’s script, “Lars and the Real Girl” is a far cry from “Harvey,” which it apes in spirit. Unlike the Jimmy Stewart classic, the people who encounter Bianca treat her as a human being and bend over backward with polite hospitality. The North-dwelling Scandinavians, played as broadly as any other regional movie stereotype, take a shine to the puppet, fussing over her hairstyle and electing her to the school board. Doctor Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) wisely predicts that this will help Lars deal with his mental instability. She doesn’t comment, however, on the lack of psychiatric acuity demonstrated by the citizens who enthusiastically adopt Bianca into the community.
If the movie has a single redeeming quality, it can be found in the gentleness of Oliver’s scenario. The obvious option would have had angry locals taking up pitchforks to harass the moony Lars. With the sole objection of one stuffy curmudgeon, the movie dispenses entirely with cynicism and skepticism regarding Lars’ colorful choice of partner. Sidestepping conflict turns out to be a double-edged sword, however, since the movie crawls along without much of consequence ever taking place. The outcome can be seen from miles off, and by the time it arrives, Lars and the rest of the wacky populace have worn out their welcome.
Far too cute for its own good, “Lars and the Real Girl” plants shy, awkward Margo (Kelli Garner) in Lars’ path with heavy-handed obviousness. Fussing and weeping over the teddy bear a co-worker has ritualistically hanged by the neck until dead, space cadet Margo is Lars’ loopy perfect match. These two belong together like peanut butter and jelly, but some viewers will certainly prefer the stoicism and stateliness of Bianca, who recalls the well-known maxim, in variations attributable to Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln or Silvan Engel or Proverbs 17:28, suggesting it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/12/07.