'Lars and the Real Girl' gets Real

By Elizabeth Lee '16Film Columnist

Lars Lindstrom is the quiet, isolated man living in his brother’s garage. He’s socially inept but sweet, in a quirky sort of way, and very sensitive. Despite the best efforts of his pregnant sister-in-law and friendly coworkers to coax him out for family meals and fun outings, Lars keeps to himself, venturing out only for Sunday morning church services. It is not until a special visitor Lars meets over the Internet comes to town that he begins to overcome his fear of intimacy and engage with the rest of the community.

Bianca is a Brazilian/Danish missionary who also happens to be a wheelchair-bound, but not entirely lifeless, sex doll whom Lars introduces as his girlfriend.

Craig Gillespie’s ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ (2007) undeniably steers itself into a very strange and daring direction. But it does so without ever becoming entirely weird or in anyway repulsive. The sincerity and gentle care with which the story and its characters are treated makes this film funny, without ever victimizing its protagonist, and emotional, without ever being cutely sentimental. In this way it is very reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart’s 1950 film “Harvey”, in which a pleasant man by the name of Elwood P. Dowd, along with his invisible, 6 foot 3.5 inch rabbit companion Harvey, convinces the people around him that perhaps he is not as insane as they are. It boasts an Academy Award-nominated script by Nancy Oliver and a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Ryan Gosling—yes, Ryan Gosling in what may actually be one of his greatest, most underrated roles—and yet it is a movie that remains, for the most part, unseen.

Much like Lars’s brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin, played by Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer respectively, it is easy to feel very unsure of what to make of the introduction of a sex doll in what has up until this point seemed a relatively normal, straightforward story about a sympathetically lonely outsider. All of a sudden we have no idea who this man is—a sex-obsessed creep, a crazy person suffering from a mental breakdown?

When Karin and Gus suggest to Lars that they take Bianca in to see the family doctor and psychologist known as Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), they ask the doctor for help in addressing the delusions from which Lars appears to be suffering. “Go along with it,” she replies quite simply, explaining that Bianca is a way for Lars to address some other underlying issues he must have. Thus begins Bianca’s and consequently Lars’s initiation into the small, conservative town community that somewhat slowly, but deliberately, opens its arms to both of them.

“There’s no such thing as silence with her,” Gosling says of his leading lady Bianca in a DVD extra interview, “Even when she’s not saying anything she’s communicating everything.” And it’s true that, though she never says a word or moves a muscle, Bianca is far from lifeless. As she becomes more and more of an accepted part of the town life she becomes a way of healing not only Lars’ but everyone else’s aching need for open-minded acceptance and compassion.

‘Lars and the Real Girl’ is now available on Netflix Instant Streaming.

(4 stars)