Review: Lars and the Real Girl

If you thought that making a movie where a lonely man falls in love with a sex doll was a silly idea, you were wrong. What might have turned out as a lame extended joke, cooked up by smug creative types who think they’re funnier than they are, is actually a sweet, warm comedy that stays well away from cynicism or sarcasm and might win over the most skeptical viewer.

The great script from Nancy Oliver, who wrote on Six Feet Under, is engaging in a gentle way. It’s free from sentimentality, and paints characters with detailed strokes, providing them with believable dialogue and understandable motives.

Ryan Gosling once again proves his versatility as a young actor with his portrayal of Lars Lindstrom, a lonely man who shuns any social interaction aside from an occasional comment to dull workmates or visits to church on Sundays. He lives in his brother’s garage, locked up inside, barely even courageous enough to acknowledge his sister-in-law when she invites him over for dinner. His subsequent affection for sex-doll Bianca is quite touching.

The supporting characters are equally endearing. Emily Mortimer is extremely likable as pregnant sister-in-law Karin. Her husband Gus (Paul Schneider) speaks the voice of reason as a dryly humourous spokesperson for the audience. Patricia Clarkson is quietly subdued as the doctor who tries some therapy with Lars.

Costume and art direction create the chilly atmosphere of snow-bound northern America. The bleak landscape and big open skies reflect Lars’ loneliness. Characters wear unfashionable patterned jumpers and big woolen boots. The result has a similar feel to working in a warm office on a stormy winter’s day – you’re glad to be inside, it cheers you up a little.

This story wears its heart on its checkered flannel sleeve. It succeeds because of the subtlety of its humour and its likable characters. The filmmakers have deftly sidestepped the potentially awkward ‘high-concept’ and instead delivered a genuinely optimistic, warmhearted fairytale.