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Ryan Gosling stars as Lars in movie comedy, "Lars and the Real Girl."

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LARS AND THE REAL GIRL

3½ out of 4 stars

The setup: A repressed Midwestern bachelor (Ryan Gosling) surprises his relatives and friends by introducing them to his "girlfriend," a life-size latex doll.

What works: Gosling's interaction with the immobile mannequin makes her more a flesh-and-blood character than a lot of actresses you could name.

What doesn't: Lars' work life is sort of a mystery.

Great scene: Lars giving CPR to his office admirer's stuffed bunny, to her unabashed delight.

'Lars and the Real Girl' is the sweetest romance of the season

  • October 25, 2007 - 2:49 PM

As somebody once said, "The heart wants what it wants." Lars Lindstrom's wants a lady friend of lifelike latex ordered off the Internet. Don't get the wrong idea. Lars is a chaste, gentle, pathologically bashful fellow, and his devotion to his doll baby is entirely platonic. He loves her rubber soul. Thus does "Lars and the Real Girl" sidestep easy jokes to become the sweetest romance of the season.

Lars, a Wisconsin bachelor, avoids eye contact like poison ivy. He lives in the garage behind his late parents' place, having yielded the main house to his gruff brother Gus and pregnant sister-in-law Karin. Despite her repeated invitations to family meals, Lars shyly shrugs off her hospitality. He's just as much a cipher at the office and at church, but his Nordic-Midwestern emotional constipation isn't considered cause for concern. Then he comes to dinner with his new girlfriend, Bianca, a life-sized Bratz doll, and his relatives and the townfolk question whether Lars has crossed the line from colorful character to crackpot.

Delightfully enough, they rally round Lars and his unconventional relationship. Karin, whose pregnancy seems to have tapped deep wellsprings of sensitivity, is instinctively protective of Lars. She pulls grumpy Gus along, because she wants the father of her child to learn how to be tender. One by one, the rest of the community comes to deal with Lars' fantasy on his own terms while gently opening paths for him to outgrow it.

Dagmar, the town doctor/psychologist ("you have to be both, this far north") declares that "Bianca's in town for a reason." She schedules the newcomer for regular checkups because "her blood pressure is low." Those visits are actually low-key therapy sessions for Lars, who is working through feelings of abandonment that have plagued him since his mother died giving birth to him. Lars' workmates invite him to bring his date to their house parties. The pretty girl in the church choir recognizes that Lars is a little different, but never loses sight of his sincere, kindly heart.

Ryan Gosling is marvelous and utterly sincere as the jittery Lars. His unaffected interplay with his immobile love object makes her a flesh-and-blood presence. The film follows him through the stages of first love -- infatuation, jealousy, tears -- and Gosling never winks at the character. He sings Bianca a warbling falsetto version of Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E" that is a pure expression of unselfconscious happiness. Later, Lars shouts at her angrily and when the eavesdropping Karin gasps, "They never argue!" her round-eyed shock is entirely understandable.

Emily Mortimer makes Karin the story's stealth heroine, operating behind the scenes to help Lars work through his issues to an appropriately hopeful conclusion. Patricia Clarkson brings calm wisdom to the role of the town doctor, Kelli Garner is note-perfect as the cute girl with a crush on Lars, and Paul Schneider makes Gus' journey from frustration and embarrassment to acceptance of his oddball brother funny and touching. Nancy Oliver, a longtime writer for "Six Feet Under," has given the film a splendid script combining the whimsy of "Harvey" and the warmhearted Americana of Frank Capra. Every scene that could be played for pathos uncorks great laughs, while those that could turn crass or silly are compassionate. On every level, this is a labor of love.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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