A small town modern fairytale that goes one step too far.
Directed by: Craig Gillespie.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Bianca the doll.
What’s it about? Lars (Gosling) is an introverted man who is unlucky in love until he announces that he has a new girlfriend. The girl in question turns out to be a blow up doll which he has ordered from the net, but in his deluded state, Lars is sure she is the real deal. What initially seems to be an embarrassing situation improves however when the townspeople decide to support Lars and his new girl Bianca.
Surely one of the reasons behind this film’s success has to be Ryan Gosling’s excellent performance as Lars. With his air of innocence and his awkward approach to the world, Lars is a character who easily provokes sympathy in the viewer and someone that I found myself rooting for. His old-fashioned dress sense and his decision to use a baby blanket as a scarf may indicate a pathetic individual but Gosling portrays Lars as a thorough gentleman trying his best to cope with his shyness and anxieties. The other important aspect of this movie, then, is the setting, which itself plays a pivotal role in the film’s plot.
The setting for this film is a small town, somewhere far north in Canada. It lives up to the small town stereotype with everybody knowing everyone else, and where church on a Sunday is a place to meet and greet the neighbours. The town as a whole has an endearing charm, reminiscent of a time gone by when people lived life at a slower pace. A few decades ago in Ireland this lifestyle wouldn’t have seemed so unusual but today it seems strangely foreign which, when you think about it, is a sad reminder of how so many of us are living life in the fast lane. Certainly, few of us are now members of a community who would pull together the way Lars’ friends and neighbours do when he creates this delusion for himself. Only his brother, Gus, represents the more typical modern reaction to a man who is sure he should marry a blow up doll. Not surprisingly then, Gus is the least likeable of the lot, as he disrupts this fairytale image. In fact, Lars and the Real Girl does indeed feel like a fairytale for much of the time and has a comforting affect like that of a nice bedtime story: Lars meets a woman who isn’t real but it’s ok because one by one the people of the town learn to accept Bianca and make her feel welcome, even winning over Gus in the end.
This happy story does take a turn for the dark side however, when Lars suddenly announces that Bianca is unwell and possibly dying. The underlying darkness to his story is brought out into the open with this announcement. Up until this point, the other characters’ decision to join in on Lars’ delusion has played down the fact that he is a man with some serious psychological scarring. The death of his mother at the time of Lars’ birth meant that Lars grew up with a father whose own feeling of grief left him unable to communicate with his young son on any meaningful level. Lars ultimate inability to connect with women is obvious, aside perhaps from a strained friendship with his bubbly sister-in-law, Karin. Bianca is the first woman with whom he strikes up a relationship and even then, he treats her with such respect and obedience, one wonders if she is more of a mother-replacement than a that of a girlfriend: He leaves her to sleep in a separate room and makes sure she is wearing appropriate apparel at all the times. Lars’ Bianca is a far cry from the sex doll she was supposed to be. Aside from his decision to ask her to marry him at one stage, there is no indication that Lars sees her as a sexual object at all.
With such painful themes as those of death, grief and loneliness underlying the sugary exterior, Lars and the Real Girl is less a fairytale and more a fairytale for adults. Yet still a fairytale, because no matter the past hurts that Lars endured, now the townspeople are coming together to make things better. This storyline obviously lends a feel-good vibe to the movie, indicating that human kindness does exist and will reveal itself when somebody such as Lars is in need of it. By right we should all go to see this film and leave the cinema with a happy serenity, but unfortunately the final segment of the film takes a downward spiral sinking into a truly unbelievable plot. The fact that people would welcome Bianca into their homes and workplaces for Lars sake seemed possible due to the nature of this film, but those events that take place within the last twenty minutes are too far-fetched and so the bubble is burst and we are hit with the realisation that none of this would ever happen in today’s self-obsessed world.
Overall, Lars and the Real Girl is movie with many good points. It is entertaining with great acting and likeable characters many of whom are at times quite potty; the true clichés of village life. It also relies solely on decent story-telling, something of which a lot of other films could take note. However, it ultimately becomes a victim of it’s own eager need to make us feel good and the implausible ending does detract from an otherwise sweet, sentimental and even wholesome tale.