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Lars and the Real Girl

dir: Craig Gillespie
[img_assist|nid=100|title=The Perfect Anatomically Correct Couple|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=392]
Part of me knows I should hate this film, hate it with a passion. Hate it with an unholy passion usually reserved for reality television, politicians and those times when you jump out of bed in the middle of the night and stub your toe whilst desperately trying to get to the crack pipe.

But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I didn’t hate it. Come with me as I try to unravel through the writing of this review what highly improbable series of unfortunate events has led us to this sorry conclusion.

The Lars of the title is played by Ryan Gosling, who is a fairly young guy getting a lot of press and attention despite the fact that he acts pretty much the same way in everything that he’s in. He’s been giving these identical, artificial, affected performances in flicks like Half Nelson, United States of Leland, Stay and Fracture, but people are still screaming and wetting themselves over him like they’re teenage girls and the Beatles are playing The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

Wow, how old did I just make myself sound? I swear, Ed Sullivan and his show were long gone way before I came along, with a suitcase and a song.

Regardless, he plays the lead here, so being able to tolerate his theatrics is part and parcel of whether one can find him enjoyable here. Considering the stories coming out about how he often refuses to take direction on set and the manner in which he believes himself to be a Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando of Acting already, you should catch his performances while you can, because he’s not going to be around for very long.

Or, he’ll be making flicks that go straight to DVD, bypassing the pesky annoyance of a theatrical run, along with Jean Claude, Seagal and Wesley Snipes when he gets out of jail in a few years.

For once the irritating little things Gosling usually does in his performances actually matches the character, in that as far as I can tell, Lars has some form of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or maybe even low-level Asperger’s syndrome. I won’t, like I usually do, weigh down the review with a lengthy dissertation and explanation of what autism or Asperger’s are or how the symptomlogy manifests or about agrarian reform of the 16th Century Welsh countryside.

Suffice it to say that Lars is a bit strange neurologically. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, in that he just seems a bit odd rather than a complete lunatic; keeps to himself, hates being touched, can’t stand disorder or anything new.

He functions well enough, with the hygiene and all, and holds down a job. A woman at his work salivates over him in a manner even more disturbing than what Lars will eventually be responsible for, so at the very least we know the chicks still dig him.

But when he sees an anatomically correct sex doll advertised, and buys one online and has it sent to him at considerable expense, and tells people that this is his Brazilian girlfriend Bianca, you think that maybe he just a bit more far gone than what ‘odd’ encompasses.

Strangely enough, he doesn’t want the sex doll for squicky purposes. He actually believes her to be a real person, and he’s, shall we say, unversed in the matters of the flesh. He’s repulsed by the thought of physical contact anyway, though he dotes on Bianca, since, as he tells people, Bianca is differently-abled (handicapped), and needs to be tended to like many of the wheelchair bound.

The snowy town where this all occurs is unique, in that it is unlike most actual towns in North America, where someone like this would be either ostracised or run out of town on a rail, or burnt to a crisp when their house was firebombed. But towns like this are quite common on television and film, so perhaps it’s not that far-fetched.

Out of concern, sympathy, pity, out of a sense of community, maybe even out of love, the rest of the town go along with it after those initial moments where they’re confronted with behaviour so strange that most people would ordinarily run a mile.

But not for these pale shadows of the cast members of Northern Exposure. Not for them the surly, mean-spirited fuck-thy-neighbour mentality that permeates most of the world's neighbourhoods. Oh no, when someone’s hurting in this neighbourhood, they help out. Even when it comes to pretending that an anatomically-correct life sized, eerily lifelike doll is a real person. They even vote her onto the school board.

Now that’s democracy in action. I was waiting for someone to make a horse a senator, and then Caligula could rise like a spectre of doom from hell, laughing his Nelson Munz-like laugh. Ha ha indeed.

A local doctor, played by Patricia Clarkson, talks to Lars under the pretext that they’re sorting out Bianca’s medical issues, and she is the one who convinces the only person unhappy with the situation, being Lars’ older brother Gus (Paul Schneider), to go along with it. She is instrumental at many stages in terms of helping Lars out of his delusional state, but, still, I found her more disturbing to look at than Bianca. Clarkson, who I’ve always thought looked gorgeous, in this flick at least has so much botox injected into her face that the doll’s face is more expressive and mobile.

The acting, throughout, is surprisingly solid, especially from Gus’s pregnant wife Karin, played by the ever-dependable Emily Mortimer. Gosling only starts doing the thing that annoys me the most in his performances, being the perpetual face wiping and neckrubbing that he thinks represents deep characterisation, towards the end of the flick when his delusional world starts falling apart through his own doing.

Gus could have been the villain in this flick, and he can be a bit of an arsehole at times, but he remains decent throughout. He is kind of our stand-in in this, in that he’s there to marvel first at how strange his brother is, and then at the fact that the other townsfolk are happy to go along with The Bianca Story in order to help Lars out. His incredulousness turns to admiration in time, as it hopefully does for the audience.

The tone, which could have veered off into unendurable treacly schmaltz, or into desperately uncomfortable perversion (don’t imagine Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role, just don’t), remains light but meaningful throughout. I never felt like the film was believable in a real world sense, but I did, perversely, feel as if the characters were behaving in meaningful and believable ways, even if I didn’t understand their behaviour.

The townsfolk don’t all get to be quirky characters all waiting to dole out homespun wisdom to whoever will listen, which would have been head-punchingly unendurable, and thus I, against all logic and reason, found myself enjoying the film, knowing full well that I shouldn’t.

I can’t credit it or really understand it; all I can really put it down to is that the director does a great job making me suspend my disbelief enough to get into a story despite my resistance to the subject matter and my irritation with the main character. Strange it may be, but most of the characters lived and breathed, even the inanimate ones that can’t technically live or breath. Like Patricia Clarkson.

About half-way through, I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine how the story was going to end without it being some kind of cop-out, or some gobsmackingly awful magic realism / Pinocchio ending to send the punters home angry or sated with their sugar rush. The way the story finds to end, which felt organic (again, for reasons I can’t explain), works rather well, I have to say. It didn’t feel like a cop-out, or unsatisfying, and left me in a positive frame of mind about a flick and a set of characters on paper that just could not work.

I like being surprised. It rarely happens, but it can come from having no expectations or knowledge of a flick prior to watching it. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, since something like this could send other people into a postal rage.

Like it should have with me. Oh well, there’s always next time

7 times no-one uses the doll the way God and the makers of it intended out of 10

“Okay. Okay, all right, we'll do it, whatever it takes.”
- “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And everyone's gonna laugh at him.”
“And you.” – Lars and the Real Girl


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