Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Artificial Can Be More Genuine Than Reality
Writer Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under, True Blood) wrote the script for Lars and the Real Girl in 2002 after stumbling onto the website RealDoll.com. Directed by Craig Gillespie (the 2011 Fright Night remake, I, Tonya), Lars and the Real Girl is a much more tender and thoughtful comedic drama than you may be expecting. Ryan Gosling portrays Lars Lindstrom; a socially awkward yet decent guy. His brother, Gus (Paul Schneider, The Flowers of War), and his wife, Karen (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian), worry about him since he spends so much time alone.
Lars not only has a shy and stand-offish demeanor he also tends to avoid people and social interactions altogether. If a woman happens to speak to him, Lars is incapable of responding. Physical contact from anyone seems to physically hurt Lars, but that doesn’t stop his friends and family from encouraging him to get a girlfriend. One fateful day, Lars is shown a peculiar website by a co-worker that sells love dolls. Although Lars is reluctant at first, he eventually warms up to the idea of a love doll as his companion. Bianca soon becomes an especially important part of Lars’ life and her presence not only changes Lars, but the town that he lives in for the better.
It took nearly a year to finally see Lars and the Real Girl after its theatrical release; a statistic that seems like a luxury ten years later when seeing and promoting new releases seems to lose steam after its opening weekend. The concept for Lars and the Real Girl is a strange one. A sex doll tagging along with an extreme introvert doesn’t sound all that appealing at first, but Lars is easy to understand as a character especially if you’re an introvert yourself or have had trouble with the opposite sex at some point in your life. Dating was always this massive hurdle that only seemed to expand and grow with each failed first date or cancellation. With those experiences and that mentality where you find yourself retreating into your own constructed sanctuary, Lars is strangely easy to relate to.
It’s not that Ryan Gosling hasn’t been a part of big budget films, but Lars and the Real Girl was released at a time in his career when he was catering more towards the independent side of things. This is pre-Drive yet post-Notebook Ryan Gosling here; films like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine solidified how talented Gosling is as an actor without all the bells and whistles of a huge cast or blockbuster film. Lars and the Real Girl is the film that made a lot of people realize that Gosling was more than a teenage heartthrob and former Mouseketeer.
Gosling fits the Lars Lindstrom role perfectly as he’s capable of portraying quirks that are as awkward as they are charming. How he’s able to talk to a doll for over an hour and not only make it believable, but also entertaining is incredibly impressive. Part of that is attributed to Bianca being treated like an actual person with her own trailer, getting dressed in private, and only being on set when she was in the scene, but Gosling also contributed quite a bit as well. Gosling improvised the CPR on Margo’s teddy bear sequence and the scene before he and Bianca enter the party.
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The film fits that independent film mold a bit too well as it has humor that’s funny but not laugh out loud funny and is dramatic and heartfelt enough to make you invested in something you likely never would without the context of the film. The film shares elements from films like Her, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Lost in Translation; that sensation of being lost in what is considered to be normal society but finding something unorthodox that makes you belong and feel comfortable and whole. There’s this overwhelming sense of charm and sentimentality that can only be found in films like this.
Lars and the Real Girl is a comedic drama that relies on awkward situations or even one rare occurrence that triggers unusual peculiarities as it focuses on people’s reactions to these situations that occur. It’s worth seeing if you’ve ever felt like an outcast and to witness Lars’ odd behavior and the snowball effect that it causes. Introverts will likely enjoy it more than the average film lover, but Lars and the Real Girl takes something that seems taboo on the surface and molds it into this genuine motion picture experience that is strangely beautiful.
Lars and the Real Girl is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu for $2.99 and iTunes for $3.99. It’s also available to stream for free on Amazon Prime if you have Starz with Prime Video channels. The DVD is $8.51 and the Multi-Format Blu-ray is $7.68 on Amazon. On eBay, the DVD is $7.98 and the Blu-ray is $7.95 (or best offer) while both are in brand new condition and both have free shipping.
© 2018 Chris Sawin
Darla Sue Dollman from Coolidge, Arizona on June 25, 2018:
Interesting film. I wasn't sure I liked it at first, then I loved it. To me, there is little comedy. I picked up on the painful issues from the start. I just hurt for Lars. From the beginning of his "relationship" I sensed that there was something going on with Lars that he was unable to communicate to others, something so deep inside of him that he needed a surrogate to help express the pain. It made me think of how psychologists will often use dolls or toys to help children talk about painful events.
I never saw her as a sex doll, but as a tool (not sure if that's the right word) that Lars needs in order to express these emotions that are trapped inside of that "ball in the throat" we all feel just before bursting into tears.
To me, this is an amazing work of art that has not received the recognition it deserves.