15 June 2008

One Man's Love for His Life-Sized Doll

In my last entry I wrote about my frustration with the formulaic nature of the super hero genre. Well soon after finishing that post I watched Lars and the Real Girl, the story of a painfully shy man's love for his life-sized doll. There was no formula to follow with this story. Actually it could have gone for a lot of very easy and cheap laughs and while there are a number of guffaws in the film, it is a complete original.
Let's start with Ryan Gosling who was so bloody brilliant in Half Nelson. As Lars he gives another standing ovation worthy performance. Gosling is restrained and nuanced where most actors would have been broad and silly. He makes Lars a character we root for, not because of what he does but who he is and the struggle for humanity he so valiantly wages.
Lars is a sympathetic nice guy character but never cloying. His mother died while giving birth to him and his subsequently heartbroken father emotionally abandoned him. His brother and pregnant sister-in-law live in the family home, Lars resides in the garage. His emotional isolation is total until he sends away for a life sized doll which he names Bianca. Lars treats Bianca like a living being, the entire community, including the co-worker who has a crush on him, plays along with the delusion out of love and concern for Lars. Most movies rely on an antagonist, Lars and the Real Girls manages without a single bad guy. Amazing.
The movie never takes a wrong turn is touching without being maudlin, and earns its laughs, there are no cheapies. The ending is also satisfying.
Kudos to Nancy Oliver for the screenplay and Craig Gillespie for his direction. The supporting cast is perfect, notably Patricia Clarkson who seems constitutionally incapable of giving a bad performance.
Lars and the Real Girl is an inspiration; it shows what film can aspire to when it doesn't follow the simple formulas. My only quibble is with the marketing of the movie. I passed on it at the theaters having totally misread the nature of Lars and the Real Girl. I'd thought it followed some formula.

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