When Lars and the Real Girl came out in theaters, I was on the fence on going to see it. The reviews were good and bad, some folks I know hated it, others really liked. So I stayed on the fence, and stayed and stayed and then it was not in theaters any more. When it came out on video (or DVD or blu ray or whatever) I decided to lay down the three bucks and see if I had missed out on anything.
I was right about being on the fence. I am still on the fence.
Lars and the Real Girl is a very small movie about a socially awkward, anxious man (Ryan Gosling) who clearly fits some DSM-IV classification. Reasons from his very early past explain his neuroses. Gosling finally steps over the edge of sanity and gets himself a life-like doll to be his future bride. The small town Gosling lives in loves him so much that they play along, and in so doing, learn about themselves.
This film would have to fall under the category of fantasy, and is using fantasy as a less harsh mode of discussing loneliness. Getting past the mistakes that are made regarding psychology, the film works pretty well as a lesson on loneliness and the power of community and social connectedness. The film has a lot of heart and a decent amount of comedy.
The unfortunate part of this film, and why I remain on the fence about it, is that all of the heart comes from the supporting cast, and I don’t know if that is enough to carry the film. Emily Mortimer is excellent as Gosling’s sister-in-law, as is Patricia Clarkson as Gosling’s doll’s physician and his therapist (though he does not know she is this). Kelli Garner as a potential ‘real’ love interest and Paul Schneider as the brother are also good. The rest of the town fills the role of wholesome, sweet, caring small town (northern midwest) America, which may or may not exist in real life.
For Gosling, this film is an acting exercise. I can imagine the conversation he had with himself before filming:
“How nuanced a performance can I create?”
“I don’t know Ryan. Since my character does not talk very much why don’t I pull from all the great silent comedians, especially alternating between Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (but mostly Chaplin) and mix them with my natural charm and ability to portray hurt.”
“Perfect. That should totally get us a nomination.”
Look, I actually like Ryan Gosling. He has been good in good movies, and sometimes good in bad movies. But in this, I had a similar, though not nearly as extreme, visceral distaste for Gosling’s performance as I had toward Sean Penn in I Am Sam. I have a brother with severe mental retardation and have worked with autistic children and was deeply offended by Penn’s performance. That he was acting like a person with…was very clear and he was pompous in doing it (side note: for a fantastic performance of a person with a disability see Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.). Gosling was just too into himself to make his role have the heart and the hurt needed to make the film work.
So where does that leave me? On the fence wondering what if.